Roar of the 12th Man crowd is mighty

LAKE STEVENS — Nina Therres relishes being part of a Seahawks crowd so boisterous it set a noise record this season and has annoyed, frustrated and even intimidated opposing players.

On Dec. 2, noise levels peaked at 137.6 decibels, regaining the Guinness World Record for crowd noise that had been claimed in October by Kansas City.

Although earplugs are available at Seahawks games, Therres will use no protective ear gear.

“It’s part of the excitement and the electricity in the air,” said Therres, 58, president of the Snohomish County chapter of the Sea Hawkers Booster Club. “Part of the anticipation is just knowing you’ll bring it and be loud.

“If you’re going to a game at CenturyLink Field, you have to know that the 12th Man brings a fair amount of noise,” she said. “If you don’t like that, stay home and watch it on TV.”

Scientists who study the damaging effects of noise on hearing say that those attending Sunday’s playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers might want to follow the practice of Therres’ daughter-in-law, Sharon Therres, 33, of Everett.

When she attends games, she puts in earplugs. “I could still yell but it didn’t bother my ears,” she said. “If you’re going to bring little ones, make sure that you have protection on them.”

On Sunday, she’ll be watching the game on TV. The birth of her second child is just six weeks away. “He’s a lot more active when there’s loud noises, and he does respond to that,” she said.

Hearing experts say the risk of causing long-term problems by attending a single raucous event, such as Sunday’s playoff game, is unlikely.

Impaired hearing typically is caused by the cumulative exposure to loud noises over the course of years, said Deanna Meinke, a professor of audiology at the University of Northern Colorado. She is co-director of Dangerous Decibels, a program to educate students on the hazards of loud noise and how to protect their hearing.

The risk to hearing increases for people who work in a noisy work environment and who participate in activities such as motorcycle riding and hunting, she said. Meinke advises them to protect their hearing with earplugs or over-the-ear muffs while attending Sunday’s game.

Ringing in the ears is one sign of overexposure to noise. “For some people it becomes permanent and never goes away,” she said. “That can interfere with your job and your ability to sleep. It’s not something that should be taken lightly.”

It’s unclear whether kids are at higher risk than adults of damaging their hearing when exposed to excessive noise. Most noise studies involve adults, but there is some evidence that early exposure to extreme noise may prematurely age someone’s hearing, Meinke said.

This season’s noise records, set in Kansas City and later in Seattle, received national attention. That doesn’t mean that everyone who attended the games was exposed to those peak levels, said Elliott Berger, a scientist in the personal safety division of 3M.

A student was at the game in Kansas City on the day that record was set at 137.5 decibels. She sat 20 rows from the top of the stadium with a noise-measuring device and recorded average noise levels during the four-hour game of about 99 decibels.

Although that’s far short of the highest noise recorded that day, it still is considered a hazardous exposure, Berger said.

Sports stadiums and events such as rock concerts, drag races and basketball games are places where people are exposed to ongoing, loud noise. Earplugs don’t block out all the sound, he said. “You find in high-noise-level events people hear better with hearing protection.”

An easy rule to remember: If you have to shout at arm’s length to communicate, sustained exposure can be hazardous to the hearing of most people, Berger said.

“Foam earplugs are so easy to have in your pocket or purse,” he said. “You ought to treat it like a pair of sunglasses. You always have them with you.”

Earplugs will be available Sunday, a complimentary service offered at every game, according to Suzanne Lavender, the Seahawks director of corporate communications.

Earplugs should be rolled between the fingers before being inserted and shouldn’t be sticking out of the ear. “If you don’t get them in all the way, they aren’t effective,” said Kristiina Huckabay, an audiologist with Swedish Health Services. “The biggest problem is proper insertion.”

For those who decline the use of earplugs or noise-reduction earmuffs, Huckabay has one other piece of advice for post-game activities.

Ringing in the ears can increase when people are tired or stressed, she said. “If they can have something quiet for the rest of the day, that would be nice.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.A plug for plugs

A plug for plugs

If you’re going to the Seahawks game on Sunday, go to this website to learn how to prepare and insert earplugs: tinyurl.com/27xylbm.

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