Prevention Profile: Audiologist Prevention Activities Get the Word Out

Think teenagers and these images come to mind: walkman stereos, video arcades, concerts, dances, and boom cars. Boom Cars? That's what a young man who was interviewed for a two-part television report on environmental noise exposure and noise-induced hearing loss drove. His boom car was equipped with a super-powered stereo system, and, in part one of the report, the young man mentioned that he was beginning to notice subjective changes in his hearing. In part two, Jeffrey Simmons, who is an audiologist at Boys Town National Research Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, helped record an audiological evaluation of the young man. The results revealed a mild sensorineural hearing loss having a configuration consistent with noise-induced hearing loss. The show was one of the prevention activities Simmons has been involved in to help preserve children's hearing.

"Children are exposed to a lot of noise today, more so than 10 or 15 years ago. Most noise-induced hearing loss doesn't happen overnight-it's a long, insidious process. Children exposed to high levels of environmental noise may start experiencing hearing loss in their late 20's or early 30's. The median age when we start seeing people with hearing loss may become less and less."

The television report that Simmons collaborated on described what levels of noise pose possible problems and showed live sound level meter measurements of selected environmental noises, including a siren, music in an aerobics class, a wood chipper, and a boom car with super-powered stereo system. The report also offered common sense tips to monitor and avoid excessive noise exposure and demonstrated the use of foam earplugs.

"It's a lot less costly and easier," he says, "to prevent a hearing loss rather then trying to treat it once it's already occurred. Something inexpensive like earplugs can go a long way to preventing that. A simple step taken now can pay off in the long run."

Other prevention activities that Simmons is involved in include talking to children at schools and hospitals about noise-induced hearing loss, levels of noise in the environment, and using hearing protection for recreational activities like concerts and target shooting. He also plays videotapes and audiotapes on hearing conservation geared to school age children.

Simmons says that the simplest thing to do for high noise levels is to turn the sound down. If that's not practical, he recommends limiting exposure time, taking "quiet breaks," and using hearing protection. He cites lawnmowers, power tools, and motorcycles as other loud and potentially damaging noise producers. "I see people every day who have a loss of hearing and nobody is happy about it," says Simmons. "So it pays to take some simple steps, be aware, and use common sense."

Even if environmental noise is not high enough to damage hearing, it can be unpleasant. Simmons points out that, in a noisy restaurant, overly loud background noise can cause irritation and be a stress factor that increases blood pressure and heart rate and causes a headache in diners. Instead of being an enjoyable experience, having dinner in such a noisy place can hamper digestion and enjoyment.

In his talks to children, Simmons uses an anatomical model of an ear. In the future, he hopes to develop a hearing conservation program that makes use of multi-media and computer presentations and present it to school children once a month or quarter.

"Kids think they're invincible-that 'it can't happen to me.' I'm planting seeds-maybe a few of the kids will take note. They may not change overnight, but hopefully they'll gain an awareness of things they can do that might have some impact. Hearing loss prevention is an ongoing educational process."

ASHA has put together a packet of prevention information. To order, call the Action Center at 800-498-2071, ext. 517. ASHA also is developing a "Prevention Curriculum Guide for Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists," which will be available for purchase by the time of ASHA's Annual Convention in November. For more information, call Mary Landry through the Action Center at 800-498-2071, ext. 306.

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