NASCAR races cause possible hearing loss
Gentlemen, start your engines. Race fans, cover your ears. If you don't, you may be doing irreparable damage to your hearing.
According to readings taken with a sound level meter during the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, noise levels near the track reached 114 decibels. Higher up in the stands, the readings were closer to 90 dB.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a leading organization on hearing safety, says that exposure to sounds above 85 dB (a lawnmower, iPod headphones at full blast) can cause gradual hearing loss if ear plugs or other forms of protection are not worn.
"Most people can't be bothered to protect their ears, especially when they're out at sporting events," said Michael Vavrek, an audiologist and owner of Pocono Audiology and Balance in East Stroudsburg.
"The problem is that the effects aren't immediate — hearing gets worse over time, and though the pain from a single loud noise will go away, the damage it leaves behind is permanent."
Most NASCAR venues sell basic, rubber ear plugs at their merchandise stands. At Long Pond, such protection goes for $2, a bargain considering hearing aids can cost up to $5,000 each.
"They're a pretty hot item, especially after the race first starts," Brenda Rex, a raceway vendor stationed in the grandstand area, said. "I don't wear them myself; if I do, I won't be able to hear my customers. The noise really doesn't bother me that much anyway."
One of Rex's earliest customers Sunday was Jessica Uhouse of Rome, Pa. It was her first trip to a NASCAR race, and she wasn't taking any chances with her ears.
"My other ones broke, so I had no choice," she said. "I love the sound, but it's not worth going deaf over."
Let's hope the drivers and their crew members are as cautious as Uhouse: A recent study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that team members are exposed to these damaging sound levels up to 21 hours a week for 40 consecutive weeks during the racing season, a noise dose up to 9,000 times higher than safely recommended.
Tell that to John Dailey, a Philadelphia native and nine-year NASCAR veteran. He was working security at the ambulance gate near turn 3, where sound levels were at their highest, without any ear protection.
"It's the noise that's the most fun," Dailey said. "I love the boom of the cars accelerating and the rumble I feel across my chest.
"Without it, I'd be too bored." Pocono Record