What? The Vuvuzela Is Hazardous To Your Hearing

Noisemaker's sound is intense enough to increase risk for hearing loss.

ByABC News
June 16, 2010, 4:08 PM

June 17, 2010 -- If you can imagine what it sounds like to be surrounded by thousands of jackhammers for about 90 minutes straight, then you may be able to imagine what it's like to sit in a crowd full of vuvuzelas.

Experts say the ubiquitous, loud buzzing horns that have become part of this year's World Cup lore may be hazardous to fans' hearing.

Researchers from the University of Pretoria in South Africa recently measured the sound emitted from the plastic horn to be 131 decibels at its opening.

Sounds that intense, according to the researchers, put people at risk for noise-induced hearing loss.

"Levels as high as what this instrument is producing is unsafe for any prolonged exposure," said John Weigand, director of the audiology program at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York. He was not involved in the vuvuzela research.

That noise measurement is what's produced from one blow of one horn. Considering that a soccer match lasts at least 90 minutes and there are typically many, many vuvuzelas sounding off at once, the risk for developing hearing loss is greater.

"Any sporting event is loud, and then when you add all these horns, it's an additive effect," said Weigand.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guidelines say that a safe level of noise exposure for 90 minutes is 102 decibels, meaning that by U.S. standards, workers exposed to noise as loud as the vuvuzela would require protective equipment.

Study subjects experienced a hearing loss after attending a soccer match in a South African stadium where there were numerous vuvuzelas being used.

"When somebody is exposed to loud noise over a long enough period of time, the early warning signs of a hearing loss are a ringing in the ears or a muffling of sounds," said Vic Gladstone, chief staff officer for audiology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. He was also not involved in the vuvuzela research.

"If an individual continues to expose themselves to loud noise, it can lead to a hearing loss," he said. The hearing loss may be temporary in some people and permanent in others.

No Plans for a Ban

Despite the potential danger, the World Cup's governing body, FIFA, says it will not ban the vuvuzela, considered to be a symbol of South African soccer.