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Let’s Talk About Second-Hand Noise

The impact of Second-Hand Noise on Our HearingShari writes about her life with hearing loss over at LivingWith Hearing Loss. Head on over there to read more about her experience, or find her on social media on Facebook and Twitter.

College sports games are exciting, the venues are typically beautiful, and the fans are rabid – especially the alumni! I consider myself a big fan, even though I don’t often get to the games in person. Recently I attended two games, and while I enjoyed them both, I have but one issue – the noise level! And I couldn’t help but think of all those young people exposed to this week after week, in stadium after stadium. It got me thinking, shouldn’t there be a law against second-hand noise?

The first game I attended was a basketball game, so I expected it to be loud and could plan ahead. Basketball stadiums are typically enclosed, full of hard surfaces, and the squeaking of the basketball sneakers alone is enough to drive me crazy. Add in the cheering of the crowd, the screaming of the coaches (basketball coaches never just talk), and it can be extremely noisy. The game I attended clocked in at 90 decibels for much of the time.

Conversation was almost impossible, but lucky for me, I was sitting next to someone else with hearing aids (I hadn’t known that beforehand), which made things easier. We lamented the noise levels, turned off our hearing aids and enjoyed the game in relative quiet, sacrificing conversation for sanity. I even wore my noise-canceling headphones, which helped a great deal.

The second game was a college football game. The stadium was open-air, and besides the PA system being a little bit loud, the sound level was generally okay, until the whistling began. There was one man seated near our group that did not just clap, but whistled at every opportunity. Offense or defense, his whistle was a constant. It was excruciating. Now before you think I was just being picky, this was not a purse your lips and whistle, this was a two fingers in the mouth calling the kids home for dinner from 10 miles away kind of whistle. It must have been 100 decibels or more. And he kept doing it. Nonstop.

Because of my particular hearing loss, I am very sensitive to high pitch sounds, so when the whistling started, I tried to take care of the problem myself. I turned my hearing aids down, but that didn’t work. At one exciting defensive moment this man whistled for what seemed like a minute straight. I am not sure how he had the strength. At this point, I had my hearing aids turned off, my hood on, my fingers in my ears, and I was frantically digging through my bag looking for any stray earplugs or even some tissue to roll up. I was literally doubled over in pain.

Finally, my mother-in-law came to my rescue. Unbeknownst to me, (I was still doubled over trying to block out the noise), she walked over to the man and said, “I admire your enthusiasm, but we have a deaf person in our party who is wearing hearing aids (I’m not sure I am comfortable with the word deaf, but let’s leave that for another post), and your whistling is killing her. Can you please stop?” And he did, for a little while. But people don’t remember and he started up again after halftime. Eventually I gave up and watched the rest of the game from the perimeter of the stadium. In hindsight, I should probably have made my whole family move given the damage this noise was doing to everyone’s hearing.

These two experiences got me thinking about second-hand noise pollution. There are laws about second-hand smoke, so why not second-hand noise? In the first instance, everyone in the basketball stadium was exposed to unsafe noise levels, and in the second, our whole section was. I am not advocating for no cheering. I like to root for my team as much as anyone, but structural changes in stadium design or requirements for soundproofing or insulation could improve things. There should be a law.

Readers, do you think we need second-hand noise laws? 

Shari Eberts

Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing loss.

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Sasha Johns

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

I don't know about a prohibitive law. The guy whistling was having fun and went for the same enjoyment you did. His brand of fun obviously cancelled out yours. Prohibiting him though will cancel his so no matter what, someone is going to suffer and lose quality of life they way they define it.

Perhaps instead offering special sections or "high intensity" warning signs for some areas. Our zoo just recently went to something similar for special needs kids (and adults I guess). They provide muffling earphones for people who struggle with high stimulation, and there are signs in certain areas of the zoo that tell them when an area is coming up that they may need to use their earphones.

Shari Eberts

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

That is an interesting idea about having special sections. I wonder if people would pay more for the quiet seats or the loud ones? Thanks for your comment.


Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Good post, Shari. As someone also dealing with hyperacusis, I would welcome a law about second-hand noise.

Shari Eberts

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Thanks Liane.


Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Shari I never thought of the high level of noise and whistling other than really annoying, the whistler, that is, at games. I know the noise level is encouraged, the additional player on a team is the crowd measured by their noise level. Second hand noise ordinance is a tough concept for sport enthusiasts, I would think.

Shari Eberts

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

I agree it is a tough concept for sports enthusiasts -- and musicians too. But it was probably also a tough concept with smokers when the first no-smoking laws when into effect. Food for thought in any event. Thanks for your comment!

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