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St. Joseph's Health Centre Toronto

Protecting your ears and hearing from the “threshold of pain” at the Honda Indy

“Ladies and gentlemen, insert your ear plugs!”

While it may not have the same cachet as the iconic “start your engines!” catchphrase that typically kicks off major auto racing events, Dr. Jennifer Anderson thinks it wouldn’t hurt to add a new pre-race ritual to Toronto’s Honda Indy.

The ear-splitting roar that emanates from the track when all the cars start their ferocious engines is loud enough to potentially cause hearing damage.

Mercedes engine chief Andy Cowell was quoted in 2016 as saying that their cars outputted 128 A-weighted decibels (dBA) of sound, which is just shy of what experts call the “threshold of pain” at 130 dBA.

And a 2013 meeting of the Acoustical Society of America heard research that also suggested there’s reason for some caution when attending an auto racing event. A researcher took noise readings during a Formula 1 race in Montreal and found average levels of over 110 dBA and peaks near 140 dBA.

Dr. Anderson, a racing aficionado and chief of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at St. Michael’s Hospital, says the exposure to loud sounds at the racetrack is less risky compared to the barrage of noise at a concert. Since the cars typically fly past spectators in a blink – unless a pack of cars is driving by in unison – the short pulses of loud sound that attendees hear are relatively brief.

But she still suggests Honda Indy attendees consider packing some form of hearing protection, particularly parents who are bringing their children, or adults with a history of hearing damage.

“Most people probably won’t be spending enough time exposed to the really high-volume sound to suffer hearing damage at a race,” Dr. Anderson says.

“But you should wear ear plugs because you probably won’t know when it’s going to happen. And I think basically most people probably don’t need to hear the car racing at full volume.”

While disposable ear plugs do offer adequate protection for an event like the Honda Indy, Dr. Anderson adds they do need to be inserted snuggly to work properly. For children, ear-muff style hearing protection might be a safer bet.

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