My 15 year old son has been a soccer referee for many years. He hasn’t noticed this before, but last night came home after reffing two games and noticed his ears felt blocked and his hearing was fuzzy. He is still experiencing ear discomfort, and is supposed to ref many games at a tournament this weekend.

I am very concerned that he sustained some noise induced ear damage. As a parent I’ve been concerned for years with the loud whistle blowing at all games/sports. A ref, however is exposed to these loud whistle blasts continuously and it is closer to his ears than all the players!

He does not want to wear earplugs as he says none of the other referees do. He also says it will interfere with his reffing, and his ability to hear properly. I’m much more concerned that this part-time job could cause permanent hearing damage/loss.

My question is: what kind of ear protection do referees who are concerned about noise induced damage from whistles use? I hope I don’t hear that the majority of referees don’t wear ear protection. It is definitely something all referees should be aware of and concerned with.

USSF answer (October 5, 2009):
In our considerable and lengthy experience in soccer, we are unaware of any other referees who suffer from ear problems caused by exposure to their own or others’ whistles nor any who wear ear protection devices — though they may well exist. Your son sounds like a referee we would like to see continue in the game. We suggest that you take this matter up with an otologist or other ENT-qualified physician.

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