Ping! Can Golfing Hurt Your Hearing?

June 14th, 2013 by Michele Gillentine, Au.D, F/AAA

The effect of titanium golf clubs

seniors golfing 2Is hearing the ping of your golf club helping your game or, perhaps, hurting you in the long run? The humble and respected avid golfer Sam Haney, of Vancouver, Washington, stated, “I know the moment I hear that ping if it’s going to be that long shot I’ve been waiting for or not quite what I intended.” He uses this auditory information to adjust his swing and perfect his game. Today, with the advent of thin-faced titanium golf clubs, it has been questioned whether the use of these clubs may produce sounds loud enough to cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Impulse noise can affect hearing

Continuous loud-noise exposure is the typical culprit of noise-induced hearing loss. However, “impulse noise,” a short-duration disturbance, has long been known to cause hearing loss as well. When you swing your golf club and it connects with the ball, the “ping” it makes is a high-intensity impulse noise, comparable to gunshots and explosions. Decibels (dB) is a universal term used for sound-level measurement. A safe limit for impulse noise is 110 dB.

Exceeding safe decibel levels

A study published in the British Medical Journal by Dr. Malcolm Buchanan was conducted to study driver noise levels. All tested titanium drivers in this study exceeded the safe limit of 110 dB. “In fact, all of them were above 120 dB, with one club cracking out 128 dB,” stated Dr. Buchanan. Higher noise levels will occur if you are practicing your drives at an indoor range, due to the reverberation of sound bouncing back from the enclosure and the limited availability for sound to attenuate over a distance.

Comparing sound levels

Here are a few sound levels to make this “ping” more relative to everyday listening environments:
Snowmobile:  98 dB
Pig squeal:  100 dB
Rock concert:  104 dB
MP3 player:  105 dB
Leaf blower:  110 dB
Jet plane:  120 dB
Jackhammer:   130 dB
Firecrackers:  148 dB

Hearing protection helps

The best advice for avoiding potential noise-induced hearing loss in any loud environment is to wear properly fitted hearing protection. Nearly invisible options are available, as well as specialized filters that protect from the high-impulse sounds while allowing face-to-face conversational speech to come through in most situations. Obtaining a baseline hearing evaluation by an audiologist and following up annually is recommended to identify any potential hearing difficulties.

A correlation?

There are 28.6 million golfers in the U.S., according to the Golf Participation Report published by the National Golf Foundation in 2009, and 36 million adults in the U.S. report some degree of hearing loss. Could there be a correlation?

Buchanan, Wilkinson, Fitzgerald, and Prinsley. (2008) British Medical Journal.
American Academy of Audiology / American Academy of Audiology Foundation.

Michele Gillentine, Au.D, F/AAA

About Michele Gillentine

Born deaf in her right ear, Dr. Gillentine felt her struggles and frustrations would be an asset in helping others overcome hearing difficulties. Therefore, she earned her Master’s Degree in Audiology from the University of Oklahoma in 1993.

She moved to San Antonio, Texas, upon graduation and worked for a university hospital and an ear, nose and throat clinic. Dr. Gillentine was presented the opportunity to open her own private practice, and upon careful consideration she chose Allen Hearing Clinic with locations in Allen and Midlothian, Texas. In her desire to continue providing the best possible hearing healthcare she went back to school and she earned her Doctorate of Audiology from the University of Arizona in 2004.