A Faceoff with Hazardous Noise: Noise Exposure and Hearing Threshold Shifts of Indoor Hockey Officials

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Noise exposure and hearing thresholds of indoor hockey officials of the Western States Hockey League were measured to assess the impact of hockey game noise on hearing sensitivity. Twenty-nine hockey officials who officiated the league in an arena in southeastern Wyoming in October, November, and December 2014 participated in the study. Personal noise dosimetry was conducted to determine if officials were exposed to an equivalent sound pressure level greater than 85 dBA. Hearing thresholds were measured before and after hockey games to determine if a 10 dB or greater temporary threshold shift in hearing occurred. Pure-tone audiometry was conducted in both ears at 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000, and 8000 Hz. All noise exposures were greater than 85 dBA, with a mean personal noise exposure level of 93 dBA (SD = 2.2), providing 17.7% (SD = 6.3) of the officials' daily noise dose according to the OSHA criteria. Hearing threshold shifts of 10 dB or greater were observed in 86.2% (25/29) of officials, with 36% (9/25) of those threshold shifts equaling 15 dB or greater. The largest proportion of hearing threshold shifts occurred at 4000 Hz, comprising 35.7% of right ear shifts and 31.8% of left ear shifts. The threshold shifts between the pre- and post-game audiometry were statistically significant in the left ear at 500 (p=.019), 2000 (p=.0009), 3000 (p<.0001) and 4000 Hz (p=.0002), and in the right ear at 2000 (p=.0001), 3000 (p=.0001) and 4000 Hz (p<.0001), based on Wilcoxon-ranked sum analysis. Although not statistically significant at alpha = 0.05, logistic regression indicated that with each increase of one dB of equivalent sound pressure measured from personal noise dosimetry, the odds of a ≥ 10 dB TTS were increased in the left ear at 500 (OR=1.33, 95% CI 0.73-2.45), 3000 (OR=1.02, 95% CI 0.68-1.51), 4000 (OR=1.26, 95% CI 0.93-1.71) and 8000 Hz (OR=1.22, 95% CI 0.76-1.94) and in the right ear at 6000 (OR=1.03, 95% CI 0.14-7.84) and 8000 Hz (OR=1.29, 95% CI 0.12-13.83). These findings suggest that indoor hockey officials are exposed to hazardous levels of noise, experience temporary hearing loss after officiating games, and a hearing conservation program is warranted. Further temporary threshold shift research has the potential to identify officials of other sporting events that are at an increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss.