Vuvuzela Noise, Hearing Problems, Ear Damage, Sound Dangers

The vuvuzela is a popular South African noise-maker that has gained much attention in the recent months due to the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament. This plastic horn has also been the subject of much debate related to the hearing damage that it may cause, especially in a stadium where thousands of fans are blowing on their horns in unison. Love it or hate, the vuvuzela is here to stay, in South Africa at least, and it is important to learn how to protect your ears should you be in close proximity to the instrument.

Can the vuvuzela sound damage hearing?

Yes, if blown in close proximity to the ear, the vuvuzela may cause temporary noise-induced hearing loss. This, however, should return in a few days to weeks depending on the sound volume and period of exposure. Repeat or prolonged exposure will result in permanent hearing problems although the onset in these instances are usually more gradual – initially there is some loss but the hearing returns partially. The sound volume from a single vuvuzela may clock in at about 125 decibels although the cacophany within a stadium may reach up to 140 decibels (dB).

How many decibels are dangerous?

A whisper is about 30dB while a conversation may range from 40dB to 60dB. The maximum dB level for workers carrying out their duties in a noisy environment is 85dB over an 8 hour period. The vuvuzela, in comparison, well exceeds this level. However, the ear is resilient and is able to withstand loud noises for a period of time without any lasting effects.

The unprotected ear can withstand a sound volume of 100dB for up to 2 hours with no permanent loss of hearing but at 120dB, the human ear can only tolerate 7.5 minutes, after which there may be serious damage to the hearing mechanism. The combined volume of a vuvuzela, at a 140dB, is equivalent to a gun shot. Even a short period of exposure to this level of sound can be dangerous.

Ear Protection and Treatment for Vuvuzela Noise

The best protection is to avoid the noise altogether. However, this is not always possible and for fans wishing to attend a public event where vuvuzelas will be out in full force, ear protection is necessary. It is best to get custom fitted ear plugs which is available from most audiologists.

Vuvuzelas should not be used carelessly and even a quick blast in a person’s ear should be avoided. If you suspect that you have sustained some hearing damage due to the prolonged exposure of the noise from a vuvuzela, you should speak to an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist immediately. Some of the signs and symptoms of hearing damage include :

  • Ringing or buzzing in the ears, also referred to as tinnitus.
  • Sounds appear to be muffled, like you have cotton wool in your ears.
  • Difficulty in hearing sounds or voices in situations where this was previously not a problem.

An audiologist will be able to assess the degree of hearing loss which could be :

  • mild (25 to 40dB).
  • moderate (41 to 70dB).
  • severe (71 to 90dB).
  • profound (91dB or more).

There are no viable treatment options at this moment for noise-induced hearing loss and even a moderate loss of hearing will require a hearing aid.