Forecast for tonight’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final?  Noisy. If you’re concerned about how that might affect your health – better yet, your hearing – we’ve got you covered.

Dr. James Roth, an ear, nose, and throat specialist at TriStar Skyline Medical Center, an affiliate of HCA Healthcare, appeared on local ABC News 2 to talk about how, if at all, the decibel level would affect the crowd at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena – site of tonight’s NHL game between the hometown Predators and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Dr. Roth kept the conversation going with us on HCA Today.

What types of hearing impairments do you typically see in your line of work? 

There are two types of hearing losses – sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss – that are much more common. Sensorineural is a noise-induced loss due to nerve damage or it can be age-related, while conductive hearing loss can be caused by fluid in the middle ear or an obstruction of the canal like a wax build up. In adults, you’ll see more of the nerve-based losses and in children, you’ll see more conductive loss.

How does loud noise affect one’s hearing?

As noise hits the ear, it transmits energy to the inner ear where you have hair cells that pick up the sound. When the vibration of the sound energy is too strong – like a firecracker, gunfire or an explosion – it can damage that cell to the point where it is destroyed. Any amount of noise at that level and particular frequency will cause damage, to a certain extent. It doesn’t take any time for you to get hurt by that, however, that’s a very significant noise exposure – maybe 100 point decibel range and up.

We’ve seen reports of the decibel level reaching as high as 110.1 during last weekend’s Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, which begs the question, how loud is too loud for hearing health?

Being exposed to the noise at a hockey game, for instance, might rise to 120 decibels, which is still pretty intense, but while it gets that loud, it won’t stay that loud for long periods of time. Usually what they’re measuring at those games is a peak level of intensity and it only gets there for a couple of seconds and then it drops back down again. So, you can withstand several minutes of that sound intensity before you shouldn’t be in that environment anymore.

What’s a normal or safe decibel level range?

In general, conversational speech noise is around 75-80 decibels. Other than that, if you get up between the 90-decibel range – which is considered safe for a full day’s work – to the 120-decibel range, it will reduce significantly how much time you can spend in that atmosphere. How loud it is and for how long is really when you’re going to run into problems.

A hockey game takes a couple of hours to be played, so the amount of time where the sound is at a high level is fairly low. There will be fans cheering and considerable bursts of noise but is not nearly as damaging as something like a firecracker going off by your ear.

What about the ringing you might experience in your ear after a music concert? Asking for a friend…  
Walking away from an event and feeling like your ears are ringing is a sign that you’ve been around significant noise. It’s something you are experiencing due to the sound level. And the ringing is the sound of those nerve cells being activated or over-activated – they are still vibrating inside your head. So, at that point, your hearing has experienced some damage. Fortunately, you were born with thousands of hair cells inside your inner ear so your tolerance for noise is definitely better the younger you are.

What can people do to protect their hearing at events like a hockey game/concert?

One of the simplest things to do to protect your hearing is getting foam ear plugs that you can place in your ear. They’re safe and convenient, especially during periods of time when it’s really loud in there. The plugs will dampen the sound about 20-25 decibels, usually. So if you’re at 125 decibels, they’re going to drop you to about 100 decibels, which is a lot more tolerable for a longer period of time. It’s not a bad idea to have them handy for the intense noise or just to leave them in your ear. You will still be able to hear and it will protect your ears a lot more while you’re there.

Any last words of wisdom for hockey fans attending tonight’s game?

Go enjoy yourself, have a good time, just be smart about it and protective of your hearing. That’s true any time you’re walking into a setting where you know there’s going to be loud noise. Whether it’s a fireworks show or even mowing your lawn, it never hurts to protect your hearing. The more you protect it, the longer it can last.

Dr. James M. Roth is an ear, nose and throat physician at TriStar Skyline Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

(Image source: Dr. Jeffrey Guy (left), vice president, HCA’s Clinical Services Group, and son attending a Nashville Sounds game at Bridgestone Arena.)