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Snowmobiling: How Loud Is It?

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Do the response over our previous blog post about noise induced hearing loss Logan (2017): How Loud is it?, we decided to run another informal experiment to see how snowmobiling would affect our hearing.

Despite dealing with hearing loss on daily basis I was shocked at how much temporary hearing loss was incurred. Kerry H.

snowmobile used in hearing loss test - wpg mb
Can snowmobiling on trails at relatively low speeds for only a few hours cause hearing loss?

Why Snowmobiling?

Winnipeg’s long cold winters and normally abundant accumulation of snow provides us with a variety of wintertime sporting and entertainment opportunities. Since the greatest risk to our hearing is noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), motor sports for competition or just plain recreation are a fairly common source of exposure to loud noises over long periods of times. Unfortunately, that’s a good mix to be a potential source of common noise induced hearing loss. We enjoy activities that we may not suspect are potentially damaging to our hearing because there’s no upfront obvious signs or pain to tell us we are doing long-term damage to our hearing. Even the smallest amount of hearing loss due to a period of exposure  to loud noises adds up over time. Eventually NIHL becomes a serious problem that could require hearing aids as a treatment.

Tiny amounts of unnoticed hearing damage to the inner the ear adds up and is permanent.

The message that we want to stress in our “How loud is it?“ blog articles is the fact that noise induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. and sadly, 100% permanent. So realistically once you’ve been made aware it’s completely up to you to protect your hearing.

Our Experiment:

The snowmobile: an unmodified Polaris 600 cc two-stroke with stock exhaust was used for the trip and a standard full face helmet designed for sledding was worn throughout the trip.

Step 1: Kerry H. volunteered to have a hearing test performed to verify that her hearing was “normal”.

Step 2: Kerry and her family went on a leisurely ride that consists of two parts.

A 30 km ride to the destination, lunch for one and a half hours, and then 30 km ride back

Step 3: just one hour after the ride, Kerry had the post ride hearing test performed.

“Despite dealing with hearing loss on a  daily basis I was shocked at how much hearing loss was incurred temporarily.” Kerry H.

Step 4: we then compared the results between the two audiograms.

Surprising Results

Noise Induced Hearing Loss From Snowmobiling

Generally speaking, noise induced hearing loss affects the upper frequencies more so than the lower frequencies. That said, we did see loss in the lower frequencies between 250 and 500 Hz – losses range from 10 dB to an even more significant 15 dB.

At higher frequencies hearing loss became more pronounced as well. The peak loss in the upper end of our hearing test, 8000Hz was as highest at 20 dB in the right ear alone. Although we expected to see a few minor indicators of hearing loss, anything over 10 dB is significant. Overall the left ear managed to remain free of loss from 1000 to 6000Hz with the left ear getting hit the hardest recording significant loss in both the low and upper frequency range. -***-We suspect the exhaust on the snowmobile is on the left side.-***-

The exposure to the mechanical and exhaust noise was only about one hour long based on the distance covered in the time to do so. Average speeds were not significantly high enough to cause major wind noise inside the helmet which would exacerbate the temporary hearing loss that was suffered by Kerry.

I never ride with earplugs. Until now I didn’t think I had to! Kerry H.

Our conclusion?

Recent research has shown that our hearing has a built-in mechanism to help deal with excessively loud environments. Often noise induced hearing loss like this is shown to be temporary when a hearing test is performed just one day later. However, the cumulative effect of loud events has been shown to cause long-term hearing loss.

Difficulty understanding speech is often the first complain due to noise induced hearing loss.

A couple of short rides per month may not cause long term noise induced hearing loss. However, when you consider how loud some of the heavily modified high performance machines are, there is a real possibility for hearing loss to occur gradually and undetected over years of exposure. No matter how small the permanent damage is, it all ads up to eventually become noticeable permanent hearing loss!

Let us know what you think – leave a comment about your experiences!

To hear what you’ve been missing, call the Polo Park Hearing Centre Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (204) 788-1083