“Kids these days! What about their hearing? Surely they must all be going deaf!!” How many conversations like this do we audiologists have each day with our patients, clients, neighbors and friends? The demise of the next generation’s hearing due to extensive use of personal listening devices, recreational, occupational and just plain old average every day noise is a hot topic rapidly reaching a boiling point. We even have a new world record for the loudest stadium noise as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records – 136.6 dB – set by the Seahawks fans on September 15, 2013. As those who strive to protect, work hard to restore, yet still feel the thrill of powerful sound, what can we do to counter this love-hate relationship with aggressive acoustics?
Noise as a Public Health Concern
We have made positive cultural changes in our attitudes and behaviors towards health issues: smoking, drunk driving, use of seatbelts, child safety seats, bicycle helmets, and sun protection. What about noise? Noise has traditionally been earmarked (pun intended) as an occupational hazard. In fact, nearly every consumer article about noise references the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) noise exposure limit as a guideline for limiting hearing risk. The OSHA permissible exposure level is 90 dBA averaged over an 8-hour work day. Exposures that exceed this limit require hearing protection to reduce the exposure. Equivalent exposures are figured by applying a 5-dB exchange for either halving or doubling the exposure time: 90 dBA for 8 hours is equivalent to 85 dBA for 16 hours, 95 dBA for 4 hours, 100 dBA for 2 hours, etc. This maximum noise allowance was made law in 1971. Since then, many other things have changed, such as our basic understanding of how the ear is harmed by loud sound. Noise isn’t confined to eight-hour work days. Many work twelve-hour shifts, more than one job, or pull double shifts working overtime as often as possible. Workers don’t get to start their “ear clock” over after they leave the job site – the noise hazard continues to accumulate as they engage in noisy activities away from work. Noise-exposed workers who understand how and when to protect their hearing on the job don’t always generalize this knowledge or habit to their recreational activities or families. Since hearing loss prevention programs are employment based, people with noisy hobbies but not noisy jobs likely don’t receive training, hearing protection, or annual audiograms. Are the federal occupational noise limits appropriate for today’s noisy world with longer working hours, different noise sources, and the multiplicity of off-the-job noises? Are they suitable guidelines for parents struggling to cope with their children’s listening habits and desires? Is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) on the rise?
It may be too early to tell about the trend of NIHL for the current generation. However, the issue of hazardous sound levels has gained national attention as a health problem beyond the workplace. The national public health campaign, Healthy People 2020, specifies one of its primary objectives is to increase the use of hearing protection devices (earplugs or earmuffs) among adolescents and adults. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has prioritized health and safety training for young workers (less than 24 years of age), who made up 13% of the work force in 2010 and are at a higher risk of work-related illnesses and injuries than older workers. Also, NIOSH recognizes the importance of integrating occupational safety and health promotion beyond the workplace with its Total Worker Health™ initiative. Multiple public awareness campaigns have been launched to raise awareness about risks to hearing from noise in children. A unique organization, called Dangerous Decibels, has developed a highly successful hearing health promotion program aimed at reducing NIHL and tinnitus. Distinguishable from other efforts, Dangerous Decibels integrates health communication theory as the foundation to change individual knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. Dangerous Decibels has developed educational materials, delivery models, and conducts research to help shape its programming. Besides all that, it’s fun! Kids and adults love it.
Innovations in Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus in Kids: October 15-16th
Shaping attitudes and behaviors about healthy hearing in youth promises to enhance awareness about the value of hearing and promote protective habits as these kids grow up and engage in noisier activities, either at work or at play. Dangerous Decibels has been actively educating audiologists, teachers, nurses, physicians, speech language pathologists, industrial hygienists, health care workers, parents and others who make a commitment to conduct educational events for kids about hearing. This year, Dangerous Decibels was awarded a grant from the 3M Foundation to further its cause by disseminating its effective training programs. On October 15-16th, 2013 in St. Paul, MN, will be a two‑day conference, Innovations in Noise-Induced Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Prevention in Kids. The most current information regarding NIHL and tinnitus in children, and state-of-the-art interventions and dissemination methodologies for effective prevention will be provided. Day one offers talks by experts in the field, concluded by a live, interactive session with colleagues in New Zealand engaged in a national partnership focused on hearing loss prevention in youth. Day two highlights a dozen different interventions and programs specifically targeting youth. Poster sessions and resource tables will be present throughout the meeting. A special event on the evening of October 16th will address the social phenomenon of sound exposure risks from personal music players and ways to conduct engaging, effective outreach and education. The event, How loud is your music? U-build-it Jolene will feature several “Jolene” mannequins and their handlers who will share how to use these colorful and sometimes provocative devices in reaching out to music listeners of all ages. Due to the collaborative support from 3M Foundation, National Hearing Conservation Association, and Prevention Research Centers, participation in these events is free of charge, however registration is required. Space is still available! Click on REGISTER for more information or directly access the information online via www.dangerousdecibels.org/innovations/
All this noise about noise…
About that 136.6 dB at the football stadium, whether one believes the decibel numbers or not, the media hype about noise presents an incredible opportunity for us. Because of this record-breaking event, volunteers from Seattle’s Hearing, Speech, and Deafness Center organized and distributed 30,000 pair of earplugs (donated by 3M) to fans in advance of the game. All this noise about noise…keep your ear to the ground. You’ll hear the rumblings of this exciting cultural change!
Laurie Wells joined 3M in August, 2012 as Senior Acoustics Regulatory Affairs Specialist for 3M Personal Safety Division. Her primary experience lies in professional review of the audiometric monitoring program and management of hearing loss prevention programs. Laurie holds the Doctor of Audiology degree from Salus University School of Audiology and is Board Certified in Audiology. In addition, she is a certified Professional Supervisor of the Audiometric Monitoring Program© and a certified Course Director for the Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC). Currently, she represents the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) on the CAOHC Council where she holds the elected position of Vice-Chair of Education. Laurie is past-president of the National Hearing Conservation Association, and served on its board from 1999 – 2007. Recently she was awarded the Michael B. Threadgill Award (2012) and the Outstanding Lecturer Award (2011) at the NHCA annual convention.
References and Resources
3M Hearing Conservation: http://www.e-a-r.com/hearingconservation/
Dangerous Decibels: http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/
Healthy People 2020: http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/
National Hearing Conservation Association: http://hearingconservation.org/
National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/youth/
National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/twh/totalhealth.html
Occupational Health & Safety Administration Hearing Conservation Regulation: https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735