Why Are Motorcyclists at an Increased Risk for Hearing Loss?


woman on motorcycle with helmet on.

Motorcycle enthusiasts often cite the thrill of speed and the love for the open road as the driving force behind their passion. However, if you’re an avid rider, you should be aware of a significant risk: research has linked this exhilarating hobby to permanent hearing damage.

A comprehensive study conducted by a prominent German automobile association in collaboration with a manufacturer of hearing protection solutions examined the impact of riding duration and motorcycle speed on hearing health. The findings were startling: bikers can suffer permanent hearing damage after just 15 minutes of riding without earplugs at a speed of 62 mph.

What causes hearing loss in bikers?

While the notion of hearing loss may not come as a complete surprise, the primary culprit might. Contrary to what many believe, it’s not the motorcycle’s roaring engine but rather the wind that poses the greatest threat. The research highlighted that even though helmets provide critical protection during accidents, they fall short in safeguarding a biker’s hearing. Enhancements to the helmet, such as added padding, vents, or weather stripping, do little to mitigate the wind noise swirling around the rider.

Bikers are often affected by a condition known as temporary threshold shift (TTS), which results from regular exposure to excessive noise levels. TTS is a progressive condition, meaning the more you are exposed to loud noises, the worse the symptoms can become. Initially, TTS sufferers may notice minor symptoms like a temporary reduction in hearing clarity. However, over time, this condition can progress to permanent and irreversible hearing loss.

Comparing wind noise with other noise levels

To grasp the severity of wind noise while riding, the German study’s findings are illuminating. At 62 mph, the wind around a biker’s head produces noise levels reaching 95 decibels (dB). For context, European Union (EU) law mandates that workers must protect their ears if exposed to noise levels exceeding 80 dB. This means that bikers traveling at this speed without ear protection are exposed to noise levels nearly 19% higher than what is deemed safe in a work environment.

As the speed increases, so does the noise level. At 74 mph, wind noise can reach 98 dB, a level that can cause hearing damage after only 7 minutes of exposure. Other studies corroborate these findings, suggesting that bikers are indeed at a significant risk for hearing loss. In fact, nearly half of British bikers are currently at risk of sustaining permanent hearing damage due to wind noise.

How to protect your hearing

Fortunately, protecting your hearing while riding is both simple and effective: use earplugs. Hearing specialists strongly recommend using filtered earplugs, which are far superior to the old, uncomfortable versions many are familiar with. These advanced earplugs are designed to protect your eardrums from high-frequency noises like wind while still allowing lower frequency sounds to penetrate. This means you can hear essential sounds like sirens, horns, and human speech, which are critical for a biker’s safety.

Moreover, these modern earplugs allow bikers to enjoy the sensations of riding without feeling isolated or numb, a common drawback of older protective devices. With filtered earplugs, you can continue to experience the thrill of the ride while safeguarding your hearing from the harmful effects of wind noise.

While the passion for motorcycling is fueled by the allure of speed and freedom, it’s crucial to acknowledge and mitigate the associated risks to your hearing. The wind noise generated at high speeds can cause significant and permanent hearing damage in a very short time. However, with the simple addition of quality earplugs, bikers can continue to enjoy their rides while protecting their long-term hearing health.

Find a hearing specialist near you to stay on top of your hearing health.

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