July 1, 2013 Columns

From My Perspective: We All Can Help Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Follow these easy steps—incorporated into your everyday practice—to help clients and patients adopt safe hearing practices.

Hearing loss from noise is a serious public health problem: More than 26 million U.S. adults have noise-induced hearing loss from work or recreational activities, and research shows evidence of early noise-induced hearing losses among teens.

And yet—noise-induced hearing loss is nearly always preventable.

Protecting people from noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most important things ASHA members can do. We should not leave hearing loss prevention up to the relatively small group of audiologists who specialize in this area. We need everyone's help!

ASHA and other professional organizations list hearing loss prevention among an audiologist's primary responsibilities. Audiologists are uniquely qualified to raise awareness about hearing risks, organize public health campaigns, promote healthy hearing behaviors, implement intervention programs and monitor progress in prevention. We can help shape people's knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors related to safe hearing practices.

But don't panic—many of these activities can be incorporated into work that we already do every day.

  • Raise awareness of noise risks. Make sure your patient history form includes questions about modifiable risks to hearing: workplace exposures, noisy hobbies and music habits, for example.
  • Make it real. Keep a few inexpensive sound level meters on hand (a quick Internet search will identify several models in the $25–$80 price range) to lend to clients to measure the sound levels of their daily activities. Or download smartphone apps that measure noise. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and others are studying the accuracy of these apps, but they are sufficient for raising awareness. Discuss potential noise risks with clients when they return the meters, and recommend appropriate hearing protection as needed.
  • Learn about protection. Become familiar with the various types of hearing protection available, including basic devices such as earmuffs and earplugs, as well as more sophisticated protectors such as flat attenuation devices (great for musicians) and non-linear devices (useful for hunters).
  • Match protection to the user. When you recommend hearing protectors for a client, use the same individual considerations that factor into hearing aid recommendations. Consider the labeled noise reduction rating (which generally overestimates the level of protection obtained by an average user) as well as other issues such as comfort, convenience, communication needs and cost. Most noisy environments require only a moderate amount of attenuation to reduce exposures to safe levels.
  • Give appropriate instruction. Individual training in the use and fit of the devices is usually more important for obtaining adequate protection than the labeled attenuation rating. Take just a few minutes to give practical instructions—this essential service can be very effective at preventing noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Verify hearing proctor fit, just as you would verify hearing aid fit. Several field attenuation estimation system products are available, including Fit-Check, Ear Fit, VeriPro, WellFit and Safety Check. These portable systems are priced within the budget of most audiology practices. The devices provide immediate feedback on the user's level of protection, making them helpful to audiologists fitting the protection and to clients learning to use it. There is a billing code for hearing protector fit-testing (CPT 92596; Common Procedural Terminology © American Medical Association), though insurance coverage varies.

If you have time to stretch outside your usual practice, consider doing public health outreach. Simple activities—distributing earplugs at noisy sporting or entertainment events, writing letters to newspapers or public officials about community noise, or blogging about promoting healthy hearing behaviors—can make a big impact on public awareness about noise and its effects.

Be proactive about identifying community events that may involve hazardous exposures and propose strategies to minimize risks to hearing. You can even use these activities as an alternative to marketing or advertising by providing visibility for your audiology practice at the same time.

Also consider presentations to local schools or community groups about noise hazards and hearing loss prevention. Many organizations have ready-made materials for such efforts. For example, Dangerous Decibels has developed a classroom program and supplemental activities to educate children about protecting their hearing. ASHA has the "Listen to Your Buds" campaign and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders has the "Wise Ears" campaign. You can tailor ideas and information from these initiatives for specific audiences. You may even be able to obtain funding from local businesses or charities to support these efforts.

Hearing professionals have an obligation to promote the prevention message. With at least 20 percent of Americans having some degree of hearing loss, and many more affected by the hearing loss of family and friends, we have the opportunity to break this cycle and eliminate at least some of the preventable hearing losses.

Christa L. Themann, MA, CCC-A, is a member of the Hearing Loss Prevention Team at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 8, Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance. clt6@cdc.gov Other members of the NIOSH Hearing Loss Prevention Team—David C. Byrne, MS, CCC-A; Thais C. Morata, PhD; and Mark R. Stephenson, PhD—contributed to this column, adapted from the December 2012 Perspectives on Public Health Issues Related to Hearing and Balance (SIG 8, http://div8perspectives.asha.org).

cite as: Themann, C. L. (2013, July 01). From My Perspective: We All Can Help Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. The ASHA Leader.

  

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