New Global Campaign Takes on Noisy Leisure Activities


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!

Click here for more information. Questions may be directed to


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. 

ASHA’s Listen To Your Buds Campaign Brings Safe Listening Message to The 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show


Annette Gorey, ASHA’s Public Relations Specialist, works to get ASHA’s booth ready for the show.

More than 150,000 people may hear more about ASHA’s Listen to Your Buds campaign at this week’s 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This marks ASHA’s fifth consecutive year as a CES exhibitor, and the ASHA Public Relations team couldn’t be more excited to spread the word about listening safely and preventing noise-induced hearing loss.

The Listen to Your Buds exhibit will be in the heart of the CES Digital Health Summit. And new this year, ASHA joins the show’s MommyTech Summit to connect with influencers, mommy bloggers, key children’s health and technology media and more. We’ll convey how Listen to Your Buds can help parents help young people use personal audio technology safely. As you probably well know, the parent blogosphere is more powerful than ever and growing fast. This is an increasingly important audience for our Listen to Your Buds campaign and outreach efforts.

The time has never been riper for a safe listening message. Spend a day with a toddler, elementary school student, tween or teen – or just walk around the mall, stand in line at Starbucks or stroll down the street – and you can’t help but see how kids are more connected to personal audio devices than ever before. Headphones have become a fashion item. The latest color iPod is in the hands of a six-year-old. Teens are at the gym listening to music. And this past holiday season, personal audio technology items were among the hottest gifts around. Now, in the wake of technology gift-giving and increased daily technology time, parents should monitor their child’s usage and volume levels and model safe listening behaviors – and the tips at can help.

We know even minimal hearing loss can affect children’s social interaction, communication skills, behavior, emotional development, and academic performance. Some parents are now realizing this, too. Eighty-four percent of parents are concerned that misuse of personal audio technology damages the hearing of children, according to the results of an online poll commissioned by ASHA last May. Parents also show overwhelming support for hearing screenings for tweens and teens—71% for 10- to 11-year-olds and 67% for 16- to 17-year-olds—according to a University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health released just last month.

ASHA’s exhibit booth in the Living in Digital Times area has information about hearing loss prevention, warning signs of hearing damage, and how to find a local ASHA-certified audiologist using ASHA’s ProSearch. ASHA member and Las Vegas audiologist Dr. Daniel Fesler, CCC-A and Buds Coalition Musician Oran Etkin will be on hand to talk with attendees.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), who puts on the CES each year, is among the Buds’ dozen dedicated sponsors; we joined forces in 2007. Recently, CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro highlighted just how important the Buds message is. “As a longtime supporter of the Listen To Your Buds youth campaign, CEA represents companies that create audio technologies for listeners of all ages,” says Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CEA. “We promote products, like noise-canceling and sound-isolating headphones, that help minimize outside sounds, and volume-controlled headphones that give control to parents of young children. New innovations are still to come that will help us practice and teach safe listening so that we can all listen for a lifetime.’”

Erin Mantz is a Public Relations Manager for ASHA.

Why do we Love Loudness?

Joul's scream

Photo by L.Bö

Why do we humans enjoy doing things that might be harmful?  Some people are crazy about dangerous activities like skydiving, extreme skiing and jumping off high cliffs wearing wingsuits.  In comparison, listening to loud music seems tame!  But the hearing loss and tinnitus that can result from too much loud music can be truly devastating, so we all need to turn it down or put in those earplugs, to protect the hearing that allows us to enjoy the music in the first place.

Interestingly, it seems that humans have always found ways to make loud sound and loud music. An early type of drum consisted of a pit dug in the ground, covered with heavy bark; dancing on the top of the pit produced a hollow, resonant sound.  Stone Age people also blew into hollowed-out animal horns to produce shrill, piercing tones.  And my favorite example is the bull-roarer–a thin piece of bone attached to a leather thong, which makes a roaring sound that is audible for miles when whirled in the air.  Such early noise-makers are thought to have been used mainly in warfare and for religious rites: to terrify and control, or to create a sense of wonder and mystery.

During the 19th century, people began to use principles of electromagnetism and novel ways to transform one type of energy to another.  These discoveries opened the door to new and louder musical sounds.  Since the advent of amplified music, there has been an increased demand for louder and louder instruments.  The sound pressure at concerts today often reaches levels that can damage fans’ hearing within minutes, but many enjoy it and come back for more.

I have collected survey data and anecdotal comments from people who enjoy loud music since 1995.  When asked to describe the feeling, common themes come up, such as a sense of power, strong connection to the music, and physical responses.  Here are a few examples

  • “Loud music allows me to completely ignore the outside world.”
  • “When you hear something that just grabs you, you want the volume cranked up so that you can feel it throughout your whole body, and let it pour into your soul.”
  • “Listening to loud music helps me to relieve stress.”

And it’s not just music!  Motorcycles, skimobiles, jet skiing, car racing, boom cars and shooting are other examples of dangerously loud activities with enthusiastic followings for whom the high sound pressure level is part of the pleasure.

As speech and hearing professionals, we are often in the position to counsel our clients, friends and family members to protect their hearing from loud activities they consider enjoyable.  How do you find the right words and the right tone of voice to reach someone who is hooked on listening to their favorite tunes through earphones while dodging rush hour traffic?  If you have an anecdote, suggestion, strategy, or even a simple phrase about promoting healthy listening in your community, please share it by posting a comment.


Ann Dix, CCC-A, grew up in a musical family and became interested in speech and hearing through her background playing and singing in rock and roll bands.   She has been a clinical faculty member of Boston University’s Speech Language and Hearing Sciences department since 1997.  Ann blogs at Now Hear This, a Boston University blog about sound and hearing. 


OSHA Policies on Noise Control and What You Can Do To Help

Sign - Hazardous Noise May Cause Hearing Loss

Photo by dabdiputs

Many of you know by now that the U.S. Department of Labor/Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has recently made and then withdrawn an interesting policy change. Back in 1983, just after OSHA had issued the final version of the hearing conservation amendment, the Agency sent out a notice to its inspectors not to enforce the noise standard’s requirements for feasible engineering and administrative controls until workers’ time-weighted average exposure levels exceeded 100 dBA, and even then only if the other elements of the hearing conservation program, specifically hearing protectors, did not adequately protect them. This policy stayed in effect for 27 years although voices from ASHA, NHCA, labor unions, and other organizations protested. The result has been that the use of engineering noise control in this country has virtually disappeared, at least in the workplace. The situation in the general environment isn’t much better because EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement has been closed since 1982.

One of the arguments against the 1983 policy change is that OSHA implemented it without going through the public rule-making process, so its legality has been questioned. Another argument is that this policy is contrary to all other OSHA health and safety regulations, where engineering and administrative controls are the primary methods of hazard reduction. During this period, however, there were some major court cases, the outcome of which required OSHA inspectors to perform cost-benefit assessments if they issued citations for lack of noise control. So while the other industrialized nations have developed quieter products and processes, the American workplace remains noisy. In Europe and Australia noise control technology has greatly outpaced the U.S., as has the protection of workers against noise-induced hearing loss. Some American manufacturers market quiet products in Europe and noisy ones at home. The OSHA noise standard lags behind those of the rest of the world in other respects. Out of some 25 nations, there are only 2 that use the OSHA 90-dBA permissible exposure limit (India and the U.S.) and four that use the 5-dB exchange rate (Brazil, Colombia, Israel, and the US). Most others have adopted a limit of 85 dBA or below and the more protective 3-dBA exchange rate.

In more recent years additional litigation has taken place, going as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down the necessity of a cost-benefit analysis. Consequently, on October 19th of last year, OSHA published in the Federal Register the intention of changing its current policy by redefining the word “feasible” as it relates to the noise standard as “capable of being done.” The Agency did say that if a noise control remedy threatened an employer’s viability (the capacity to remain in business), it would not be considered feasible. OSHA encouraged the public to comment on the proposed change with a deadline of Dec. 20th 2010, which has since been extended to March 21st 2011.

ASHA, along with NHCA and Council for Accreditation in Occupational Hearing Conservation (CAOHC), signed a coalition letter to Dr. David Michaels, the OSHA Director, supporting the recent policy change and requesting that the Agency continue to make improvements to the existing regulation. We later followed up with detailed reasons for our support, including the facts that workers are continuing to lose their hearing despite alleged compliance with the hearing conservation amendment, they often fail to wear their protectors or use them improperly, hearing protectors can have an adverse effect on communication and the perception of warning signals, and engineering controls can actually be less expensive in many situations because they are one-time rather than annual expenses. Also, there are many options available to OSHA to ease any resulting burdens on employers by giving long compliance times, exempting small businesses, and providing technical assistance.

Within a few weeks of its publication, there was a firestorm of objection from major business associations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, claiming that the policy change was not needed and that it would have an adverse effect on jobs. These groups maintained that employees were sufficiently protected with hearing protectors and other elements of the hearing conservation program. They conveyed the impression to their members that OSHA would crack down on them immediately (an impossibility), that the policy applied to workers exposed to noise levels over 90 dBA, when in fact it’s TWAs (averages not levels, resulting in far fewer overexposed workers). They also maintained that this was something new rather than something that had been an integral part of the noise standard since 1971!

Also around this time President Obama issued an executive order directing the agencies to reexamine the need for regulations, and certain members of Congress took a negative interest in OSHA’s proposed policy change. As a result, OSHA withdrew its policy on January 19, 2011, stating that this process required “much more public outreach” and that they needed to examine other alternatives. They would, however, review all comments that arrived by March 21st and some time after that hold a stakeholders meeting.

ASHA members should consider submitting comments on these issues to OSHA. Mail three copies to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket no. OSHA 2010-0032, U.S. Dept. Labor, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington DC 20210.

Further information:

Dr. Alice Suter has been active in the field of occupational hearing conservation for 40 years, during which time she worked at the U.S. EPA, OSHA, and NIOSH, and more recently as a consultant.  At OSHA she was a senior scientist and manager of the noise standard.  Although she is a strong proponent of hearing loss prevention programs, she believes that these programs must include measures to control noise at the source for them to be effective.

The Mosquito Alarm: A pesky teen-repellent or noise pollution for innocent pedestrians?


Photo by naturegirl 78

Having trouble with teens loitering in areas of concern or individuals of any age gathering in front of your building or place of business, and making people feel unsafe? The Mosquito alarm promises to resolve this problem using very high frequency sound to annoy teenagers who can typically hear the sound. The range of human hearing is estimated from 20Hz to 20,000 Hz (20KHz). This device can be set to 17KHz to disperse the teenage population or 8KHz to disperse people of any age from loitering in areas of concern. A range of manufacturer claims for products like this indicate that the high frequency tones can broadcast sound anywhere from 75dB to 95dB. It was recently placed outside of a busy metro rail station in Washington, DC with a variety of retail and entertainment businesses nearby. This area has become a popular hangout for teenagers, and recently the site of a brawl that left several metro rail passengers injured. (The alarm was subsequently removed after complaints of age discrimination.)

But beyond mere annoyance, can devices like the Mosquito alarm add to a growing concern: noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) among teens? Research published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed an increase in teen hearing loss. The study showed that one in five U.S. adolescents 12 to 19 years old, approximately 6.5 million teens, had hearing loss in 2005-2006. Side effects such as severe headache were reported by pedestrians traveling to and from the Washington, DC metro rail station while the Mosquito alarm was in place. Due to the limited technical data disclosed about these devices, the potential negative impact on hearing and other health effects are unknown at the present time. There is currently no federal regulation for the use of this type of device.

For more information about Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, visit the ASHA or Listen to Your Buds websites.

Paul Farrell is an Associate Director of Audiology Professional Practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association