Worldwide, the statistics are sobering:
- 360 million people have disabling hearing loss.
- 43 million people between the ages of 12–35 years live with disabling hearing loss.
- Half of all cases of hearing loss are avoidable through primary prevention.
Of course, none of this likely comes as a surprise to ASHA members, particularly audiologists, who are on the front lines of care for people with hearing loss. The good news is that we are going to hear a lot more about this serious health issue with the help of a high-profile group.
Today, on International Ear Care Day, the World Health Organization is elevating the profile of hearing loss—specifically noise-induced hearing loss—by launching a new campaign called Make Listening Safe.
The campaign educates the public about hearing dangers posed by noisy leisure activities and promotes simple prevention strategies. Young people are the focus because an increasing number are experiencing hearing loss. As the creator of the highly successful Listen to Your Buds campaign, WHO asked ASHA experts to advise on Make Listening Safe. A role the association enthusiastically embraced.
ASHA used Listen to Your Buds to provide an early warning on potential hearing dangers from misuse of personal music players and the need for safe listening. Today, as this technology is nearly ubiquitous, the campaign is going strong on a variety of fronts.
One of ASHA’s most successful ventures is its safe listening concert series. The series educates young children about protecting their ears in a fun, interactive way by bringing innovative musicians and performances to U.S. schools. A new video showcases the most recent concert series, which took place in six Orlando-area schools in conjunction with ASHA’s 2014 convention.
Misuse of personal audio devices is also a key area of focus for Make Listening Safe. According to WHO, among teenagers and young adults aged 12 to 35 years in middle- and high-income countries, nearly 50 percent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of these devices.
This is one of the new global estimates being released with the launch of Make Listening Safe. In addition to a high-profile unveiling in Geneva, WHO is issuing a variety of materials featuring statistics on the problem’s scope, the hearing loss consequences and action steps that parents, teachers, physicians, managers of noisy venues, manufacturers and governments can take to make listening leisure activities safer.
ASHA asks members to take up the campaign. Here are just a few ideas on how you can get involved:
- Utilize the WHO’s eye-catching public education materials—including posters, a fact sheet, and an infographic—with peers, patients, friends and loved ones.
- Engage in grassroots public education, such as sharing statistics and prevention tips on social media or holding a free hearing screening.
- Approach local media to pitch a story. The campaign’s launch with accompanying statistics is a great news hook. You can tie the story to your local community by highlighting an event your practice is hosting or offer tips for safe listening at local noisy venues (e.g., stadiums, concert venues/clubs). This is also an excellent consumer health story for a television station, particularly because it offers “news you can use” such as easy prevention tips.
The focus on noise-induced hearing loss in young people is not limited to March. While the WHO campaign will be ongoing, ASHA will also poll the public about safe listening practices. Our results will provide more opportunity for outreach during Better Hearing & Speech Month in May and beyond. Stay tuned!
Judith L. Page, PhD, CCC-SLP, is ASHA’s new president. She served as program director for Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Kentucky for 17 years and as chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences for 10 years.