Hockey Canada’s recent ban on hitting in the peewee ranks of the sport were done to protect kids from injuries. But eliminating body-checking will also improve the health of Canada’s hockey-playing children beyond what might happen to their bones.
Along with reducing the number of concussions children will incur, Hockey Canada’s removal of body-checking for children under 13 will also benefit their hearing health.
High-impact sports, including hockey and football, have long been known to diminish hearing, leading to such problems as dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness.
Body-checking can result in concussion, a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a sudden blow to the head. The impact can cause the brain to bump against the skull and result in a temporary disruption of the brain’s normal electrical activity. This temporary disruption can become permanent with repeated concussions, which can lead to vertigo or ringing in the ears.
So the ban on body-checking—approved in May after much debate and controversy, and to take effect starting in the 2013-14 season—is a plus for the hearing health of Canada’s children.
But even without hitting, hockey players face the potential of hearing damage because of the physical and unpredictable nature of the sport.
The truth is, it isn’t only through body-checking that injuries occur. Falls on the ice are routine in hockey, especially for those learning the sport. Players can accidentally bang into the boards or goalposts, or even each other. All of these impacts can cause cumulative damage to brain function.
Hearing health practitioners and audiologists suggest that parents monitor all on-ice impacts their kids incur, and be proactive in talking to their pediatrician about signs and symptoms of mild and more significant concussions and how to monitor and treat them.
Head injuries are difficult to diagnose because they are not apparent to an observer. You need to ask questions and monitor children’s behaviour, looking for anything that may be out of character.
Depression is one of the symptoms of both concussion and hearing loss. In children, particularly teenagers, it is one of the most serious health issues faced. Yet, it’s hard to say what causes that decline in mood. What we do know is more than 3 million Canadians have some form of hearing loss, and we are seeing Canadians at younger and younger ages being affected.
High-impact sports play a role in that rise in hearing damage we see. Besides hockey, other sports also have physical plays that can be damaging to hearing health.
The heading of balls in soccer has been known to cause dizziness and head trauma. The Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York has been investigating the consequences of heading a soccer ball. Researchers have found that players who headed a ball more than 1,000 times a year were likely to have at least mild cognitive impairment.
Likewise, tackling in football can lead to permanent and debilitating brain injuries, as has been well documented. Even riding a bicycle puts you at a greater risk of concussion, resulting in hearing loss, dizziness, or vertigo.
Does that mean you should stop playing all sports?
Not at all. Sports are one of the most enjoyable aspects of life in Canada. That said, parents should be aware of the risks to the auditory system.
There is also a huge opportunity for parents to advocate for better helmets to minimize the risks of concussions in the various sports our kids play. Most helmets used today protect well against skull fracture but not against concussions
The goal shouldn’t be to remove sports from our life, but to take the necessary precautions to ensure we stay connected to the sounds and activities we love.
MJ DeSousa, an audiologist and Director of Professional Practice at Connect Hearing, leads a team of hearing professionals across Canada. For more information about hearing loss please visit www.connecthearing.ca