Following our previous post examining why you should wear hearing aids during sports, we look at how you can protect your ears from the common risks of certain sports.
Each day we put ourselves in situations that can damage our hearing. Even simple activities like playing your favorite sport may result in ear or hearing injuries. Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can enjoy your favorite activities while maintaining your hearing health.
If you like swimming, surfing, waterskiing, or other sports centered around water, you’ll need to take steps to keep it from getting inside your ears and possibly causing infections. Water trapped in the inner ear can lead to otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, in which the outer and inner ear become inflamed and infected. Another condition is surfer’s ear, whereby exposure to wind and cold water causes abnormal bone growth in the ear canal. If you frequently experience ear infections, you could be at greater risk of hearing loss. However, they can be prevented by wearing waterproof earplugs to keep water out of your ears, while wetsuit hoods and diving helmets can protect against surfer’s ear.
Sports that involve a great deal of physical contact like football and rugby pose a different kind of threat. All of that tackling and resulting blows to the head that can damage the aural nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain. A heavy blow can also cause a shock wave that injures the auditory components of the inner ear. In addition to hearing loss and tinnitus, repeated head trauma can lead to other conditions like concussion, intracranial hemorrhage, meningitis, cerebral contusion, vertigo, and facial paralysis, highlighting the need for proper head protection when playing these sports.
Exposure to sounds above 85 decibels (dB) can damage your ears and lead to noise-induced hearing loss. There are many sporting activities that easily exceed that threshold, such as shooting (more than 150 dB), motorcycling (over 100 dB, when factoring in wind noise), and racecar driving (about 115 dB for the driver). For shooting enthusiasts, there are numerous options for noise canceling earmuffs that muffle gunshots to safer levels. Motorcyclists and drivers can benefit from specially designed earplugs that filter out noise and fit comfortably under a helmet.
Athletes who participate in physical combat sports like wresting, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and other martial arts can develop a condition known as “cauliflower ear.” Repeated blows to the cartilage in the outer ear can lead to internal bleeding that forms clots and blocks proper blood flow to the ear. This can cause some of the cartilage to die, and then fold in on itself making the ear look permanently swollen, in addition to causing hearing loss. Again, proper safety gear is essential for preventing cauliflower ear, via ear guards worn around the head or customized shields that fit over each ear.
If you enjoy playing any of the above sports but are worried about their effect on your ears and hearing health, there’s no reason to give them up. With the proper precautions and protective gear, you can continue doing (and hearing) what you love.