And not because of unruly fans or errant flying objects, though both could certainly be issues.
As it turns out, World Cup fans – certainly those in the stands in South Africa – could be placing their hearing in jeopardy. According to livescience.com, the vuvuzela, a stadium horn made popular by World Cup soccer fans in South Africa, may permanently damage the hearing of people within the vuvuzela’s close proximity – and yes, that includes the vuvuzelar themselves, according to a recent study.
Apparently the sound of the vuvuzela averages 131 decimals at the horn opening and 113 decimals at a 2-meter distance from the instrument, according to a study done at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. These noise levels are dangerously high, and they exceed international sound exposure limits set for occupational settings, the authors wrote.
Of course noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible because loud bursts of sound over prolonged periods of time can destroy the small and perhaps irreparable cells in the inner ear, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How it Hurts
The livescience.com report notes that within in the inner ear is a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea, which is filled with fluid and lined with cells called hair cells. Normally, sound waves in the air cause the fluid to vibrate, and as the fluid moves over the hair cells, it pushes the hairs this way and that, which triggers the hair cells to send signals to the brain. Loud noises can break those tiny hairs, and because these cells are the sensory receptors for the auditory system and allow the ears to process sound, when they are injured, the ability to detect sounds is diminished.
The study also showed that soccer fans attending a Premier League soccer match in South Africa suffered noise levels peaking at 144.2 decimals during the nearly two-hour-long event. To put that in context, that level of sound is louder than what you’d hear standing about a thousand yards from a jet that was taking off (130 decibels).
Listening to just one vuvuzela for seven to 22 seconds exceeded the typical levels permitted for noise at work and caused temporary hearing loss among spectators, the study showed. While the subjects' hearing loss wasn't permanent, attending just three to five events with these noise levels would be enough to cause lasting hearing damage, according to the CDC.
The CDC recommends that all World Cup attendees (or anyone attending loud events or concerts, don hearing protectors such as ear plugs during the event). You know you're in a situation that may damage your hearing if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is an arm's length away.
Those volumes wouldn’t appear to be much of a problem for those watching from afar – though the sound of thousands of vuvuzelas honking has commentators, networks and audiences at home raising their voices in protest. The BBC alone received 554 viewer complaints about the sound of vuvuzela horns in its live World Cup coverage from South Africa, with many fans claiming they couldn't hear the color commentary.
You can play a sample (or buy it) at http://www.amazon.com/Vuvuzela-Sound-Single/dp/B003HBN9DY
Or watch a report on the “controversy” at http://abcnews.go.com/International/News/vuvuzela-world-cup-african-sound-annoying/story?id=10813491