Public Awareness

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A National Communication Planning Meeting, Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss for the Public and the Worker, Held December 1, 1998, Bethesda Marriot.

Why A Public Policy Promoting Hearing Health Is Needed

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), National Institutes of Health (NIH), in collaboration with the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is preparing a national campaign to promote the idea that each worker and employer should be aware of the importance and value of our hearing ability. This campaign recognizes that hearing health is not currently a national priority, while the average citizen is exposed to more noise risks than ever before. Yet, few people are motivated to take the necessary self-protective actions to protect their hearing.

These trends have resulted in hearing loss appearing much earlier in life than would have been expected just 30 years ago. Studies have shown that up to 15% of children ages 6 to 19 years old are showing signs of hearing loss. Other studies have shown that young adults in the age range of 20 to 30 frequently have hearing loss that was formerly associated with 50 to 60 year old adults. Our ability to live a longer, fully functional, healthy life is in jeopardy just as we enter the information age where communication is of prime importance. Helen Keller said that blindness separated her from things, but deafness separated her from people. In today's society, the implications of that are much worse. Our children and young adults are a generation-at-risk.

For each person, healthy ears improve her or his quality-of-life, ability to learn, career potential, and safety to name just a few important factors.

For the employer, healthy ears mean workers who can focus on the company's mission in today's competitive environment without having to put in the efforts required to overcome the challenges imposed by hearing loss. Healthy ears also mean lower safety costs, lower lost-work-time costs, lower insurance costs, lower worker compensation costs, and lower costs associated with changes to the work environment needed to accommodate people with hearing loss.

Today we know that noise induced hearing loss is entirely preventable. It is not true that losing our hearing is an inevitable part of aging. Risks to our hearing are present in all aspects of our lives, at work, at home, and at play. The quality of hearing health in our senior years can be improved by making the correct life-style and medical choices while we are younger.

Once a person places an appropriately high value on hearing health s/he will seek out the appropriate methods of self-protective behavior whether on or off the job, by means of noise controls, avoidance, or hearing protection. The objective of the campaign is to increase recognition that our ears need the support of our medical system in the same way that we address visual, dental, cardiovascular and other health matters.