The National Hockey League playoffs began last night, with five of the eight first-round series getting underway. Over the next several weeks, thousands of hockey fans will crowd into arenas around the USA and Canada to watch their teams compete for the Stanley Cup. With the playoffs the culmination of their teams' seasons, fans unsurprisingly take it upon themselves to support the players even more loudly than during the regular season. But as loud as the fans may get, surely the typical cheers and chants and the occasional arena anthem are not too harmful to your ears?

The danger is worse than you might think. In 2006, Richard Liu of the University of Alberta wore a noise meter to three games in Edmonton's Rexall Arena, where the Edmonton Oilers were playing the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup finals. After taking on this terrible burden in the name of science, Liu and Alberta colleague Bill Hodgetts published their findings in the December 2006 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. "The average exposure levels for each game," they write, "were 104.1, 100.7 and 103.1 dB...In terms of projected noise dose, each person in the arena not wearing hearing protection received about 8100% of their daily allowable noise dose." "To give you some sort of sense of what 104 decibels is like," Hodgetts told CBC News, "it wouldn't be much different than having a chainsaw a meter to a meter and a half away from you, running for three hours." An audiologist also tested Liu and his wife's hearing before and after the game, and found that one subject "experienced a temporary threshold shift in one ear of 20 dB...represent[ing] a real change in hearing status," while the other "experienced a decrease in the strength of the outer hair cell responses," which are "usually the first structures to be damaged by exposure to loud noise." The authors suggest hockey fans wear earplugs, but, with all but the cheapest playoff tickets selling for more than $100, consider saving your hearing and your checkbook: watch the game at home.