Long-Term Effects of Scuba Diving on Hearing

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“I get periodic inquiries RE the long-term effects of SCUBA on hearing.   Heres’ my customary answer followed by the latest research:

Diving-related hearing loss is pretty much limited to those who are commercial divers exposed to loud noses and divers who have experienced barotrauma of the ear. The recreational diver who equalizes appropriately and sustains no ear injury does not appear to be at significant longitudinal risk for SCUBA-related hearing loss or tinnitus.

1. “Undersea Hyperb Med. 2011 Nov-Dec;38(6):527-35.

Assessment of the central hearing system of sport divers.

Hausmann D, Laabling S, Hoth S, Plinkert PK, Klingmann C.
Department for Otorhinolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:  To investigate the effect of regular scuba diving on central processing sequences of sport divers who have no history of noise exposure or ear-related accidents using a comprehensive topographic examination of the central hearing system.

DESIGN:   Cross-sectional controlled comparison study.

SETTINGS:  General sports diving community.

PARTICIPANTS:  81 sport divers with a mean of 300 dives each were compared with a control group of 81 non-divers.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: The participants were classified into three age groups. Hearing test results were combined for both ears. Examination included brainstem evoked response audiometry (BERA), cortical evoked response audiometry (CERA) and dichotic listening tests to screen for retrocochlear and central hearing disorders. Testing of brainstem latencies was performed in a gender-dependent manner.

RESULTS: BERA showed a pathological extension of the I-V-latency in one diver. Magnetic tomographic imaging ruled out brainstem lesions. No reason for the measured latency could be detected. All other latencies (I-III, III-V and I-V) in both gender groups were within normal limits. No statistically significant differences between divers and non-divers could be detected. Dichotic listening showed no clinical abnormalities in any of the participants, but in the age group 18-29 years divers performed significantly better than non-divers (p = 0.01). CERA revealed no significant differences between divers and non-divers in the age group 18-29 years and 30-39 years, whereas divers in the age group 41-50 demonstrated significantly better test results (p = 0.045) (difference of the means: 4.18 dB).

CONCLUSION: Dichotic listening and CERA did not reveal a significant reduction of central hearing performance in divers. Persistent on-shore BERA wave latency prolongations that were present in one study could not be confirmed in our study group. This first comprehensive topographic examination of the central hearing system of divers showed no abnormalities.”

2. “Undersea Hyperb Med. 2011 Nov-Dec;38(6):515-26.

Assessment of the peripheral hearing system of sport divers.

Hausmann D, Laabling S, Hoth S, Plinkert PK, Klingmann C.
Department for Otorhinolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: To investigate the effect of regular scuba diving on the hearing thresholds of sport divers who have no history of noise exposure or ear-related accidents. Comprehensive topographic examination of the peripheral hearing system of sport divers.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional study.

SETTINGS: General sport diving community.

PARTICIPANTS: 81 sport divers with a mean of 300 dives each were compared to a control group of 81 non-divers.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Participants were classified into three age groups. Examination included microscopic otoscopy, tympanometry, pure-tone audiometry (PTA) including air and bone conduction, speech audiometry and otoacoustic emissions (OAE).

RESULTS: PTA suggested significant differences of the hearing thresholds at several frequencies between sport divers and non-divers in all age groups, although a Bonferroni correction for multiple testing was applied. Interestingly, the results were contradictory. Divers obtained better hearing results in air conduction, whereas non-divers showed better results in bone conduction. Speech audiometry and OAE did not reveal significant differences.

CONCLUSION: There are no published studies of the peripheral cochlear system of divers that have used a combination of PTA, speech audiometry and OAE. All studies suggesting hearing impairment in divers were based on PTA and might have been influenced by a lack of accuracy of PTA. Our results suggest that diving does not adversely affect the hearing system of sport divers. A thorough test battery of audiological methods implying PTA, speech audiometry and OAE may contribute to offer more reliable results to answer the question of whether commercial or military divers are at higher risk for hearing detoriation.

Regards,   DocVikingo”

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7 comments for “Long-Term Effects of Scuba Diving on Hearing

  1. March 28, 2012 at 5:27 am

    Hi Doc,

    I’m sure that research is correct – but I would be very interested to see results for 3000 dives rather than 300. Not so long ago professional (sport) divers Ron Taylor, Kevin Deacon, Barry Andrewartha, Jean Michel Cousteau and myself were trying to have a conversation in a noisy cafe. We all have a history of many thousands of scuba dives and also skin diving – where equalisation is more difficult. I noticed we were all using our hands as ear trumpets!

    I used to sit around dinner parties thinking of witty replies to my guests’ conversation – now I sit there wondering if they actually said what I think they did. I’ve given up cocktail parties where I inevitably nod my head inappropriately. However I notice I can still hear the words “Dinner” and “Sex” under almost any conditions.

    I’ll send the story I wrote at the time with some pics to the UC blog.

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  2. DocV
    April 2, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Hi Bob,

    Agreed, but as you well know in diving medicine we’re lucky to get anything at all of quality on topics such as this.

    Also, the august & seasoned crew you mention arguably inhabits the border land between sport & commercial divers. And, they are subject to the normal age-related hearing loss well known in gentelmen “of a certain age.”

    Thanks for your comment.

    Doc

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  3. John Bantin
    April 16, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Eh?

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  4. Ben Glick
    April 19, 2012 at 10:56 am

    After 35 years of diving my hearing is poor. I say it is age my wife says diving. I can still hear the dinner call but the word sex is really faint.

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  5. July 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Bob, perhaps you and your friends’ hearing loss has to do with the passage of time (i.e., aging!) as much or more than diving. It’s tough to rule out that the hearing loss and diving are merely correlational when we’re looking at things longitudinally. That said, I have the same concerns about my hearing as both a diver and a motorcyclist. I do use ear plugs when I ride but don’t have a similar option when diving. My mom, who is 76, is neither a diver nor a motorcyclist….and her hearing stinks is horrible.

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  6. Digger Rowe
    August 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    I have been told by my ENT Physician that I have growths in both ears which he says are caused by cold water (California) diving. I have been diving for 50 years, the first twenty of which were almost exclusively in California.

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  7. Donelle Ehritt
    November 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    As an audiologist and a diver, I have long been interested in the long term effects of diving on hearing loss so I was please to see that the cases sited above found no significant differences in hearing between the divers and non divers studied. With about 1000 dives under my own belt and now collecting social security, I have not found that my hearing has been adversely affected by my diving or by aging up to this point. My husband, who tends to have some middle ear problems usually has some transient decrease in his hearing after a two week dive trip.
    Unless you are a younger diver, that is, under the age of 50-60 years old, there is a tendency to have some high frequency nerve damage, either from aging, genetics, or noise exposure ( especially with men) as you age. It would be difficult to segregate the cause of hearing loss in divers if it was found. The study above, suggested that there was no difference in divers and non divers when other factors were taken into consideration.
    As we age, it becomes more difficult to process speech in heavy background noise (such as noisy parties and restaurants) regardless of essentially normal thresholds levels.
    The ear growths mentioned in the above reply, exostoses, caused by swimming or diving in cold water, is our bodies response to protect our brains from the cold. Unless the ear is closed off completely, these do not affect hearing.

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