Page last updated at 11:40 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Playing golf can 'damage hearing'

golf ball
Modern clubs make more noise hitting the ball

Keen golfers are being warned by doctors that they could be risking their hearing for their sport.

Players who use a new generation of thin-faced titanium drivers to propel the ball further should consider wearing ear plugs, experts advise.

Ear specialists suspect the "sonic boom" the metal club head makes when it strikes the ball damaged the hearing of a 55-year-old golfer they treated.

They outline the details of this case in the British Medical Journal.

The man had been playing with a King Cobra LD titanium club three times a week for 18 months and commented that the noise of the club hitting the ball was "like a gun going off".

Thin-faced titanium drivers may produce sufficient sound to induce temporary or even permanent cochlear damage
Lead researcher Dr Malcom Buchanan

It had become so unpleasant that he decided to ditch the club, but by this time he had already suffered some hearing loss.

Doctors at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital carried out tests on the keen golfer after he attended their clinic with unexplained tinnitus and reduced hearing in his right ear.

The tests confirmed that his hearing problems were typical of those seen with exposure to loud noises.

'Sonic boom'

The doctors trawled the web for reviews of the King Cobra LD club and said they found some interesting comments.

One player reported: "Drives my mates crazy with that distinctive loud 'BANG' sound."

Another said: "This is not so much a ting but a sonic boom which resonates across the course!"

The doctors decided to recruit a professional golfer to hit shots with six thin-faced titanium clubs from manufacturers such as King Cobra, Callaway, Nike and Mizuno.

All produced a louder noise than standard thicker stainless steel drivers.

The worst offender was the Ping G10 at over 130 decibels.

Lead researcher Dr Malcom Buchanan, an ENT specialist and a keen golfer, said: "Our results show that thin-faced titanium drivers may produce sufficient sound to induce temporary or even permanent cochlear damage in susceptible individuals."

He said golfers should be careful when playing with these thin-faced clubs as they make a lot more noise, and suggested they could wear earplugs for protection.

Crystal Rolfe, an audiologist for the RNID, said: "Exposure to loud impulse sounds over time can cause damage. It is a short, sharp burst of very loud peak sound with this type of golf club.

"Earplugs would offer some protection and if someone was playing regularly with these types of club they might consider wearing them. But this is only one individual case so we need more research."

Dr Martin Strangwood, an expert in sports equipment engineering at the University of Birmingham, said manufacturers engineered the sound of the club to get a "good" sound for the player.

"There has been a tendency to make booming clubs for drivers. But if this were a problem it would be easy to remedy by filling the head of the club with foam to reduce the sound."

He said wearing earplugs was another solution, but said players use the noise as feedback to assess how they are playing and how well their equipment is performing. "So it might not work for all."

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