Home Audiology How to Encourage Hearing Protection: It’s All in the Attitude

How to Encourage Hearing Protection: It’s All in the Attitude

by Ted Johnson
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A quick Google query tells us that “attitude” is a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically one that is reflected in a person’s behavior.

Millie likes to go to the shooting range with family members. Her caring family makes sure to protect her hearing. (Millie is a rescue pup belonging to Christine Sanders, a senior in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Valdosta State University.) If only all parents understood the importance of hearing protection.

In 2009, I participated on a research team studying hearing protection use and attitudes of young adults toward exposure to loud sound. Our target population was college-age adults in the U.S. We compared results to a similar age group in Sweden. The data suggested that, by comparison with the Swedish sample, American young adults are less likely to view loud sound as a health hazard.

We live in a noisy world. Consider, for example, the fans of the Kansas City Chiefs who proudly proclaimed they broke the Seattle Seahawks record for the loudest outdoor stadium sound level record at 142.4 decibels (dB). By comparison, a jet fighter taking off from an aircraft carrier generates approximately 140 dB. It’s estimated that at 150 dB, the human eardrum ruptures.

Where does our craving for loud sound first develop? Music and speech share similar development characteristics. Consequently, we develop our taste for loud sound at an early age.

If we know that hearing loss due to noise exposure is 100 percent preventable, and attitudes toward health safety or risks are developed earlier in life, then we need to work harder to establish early awareness on the negative effects of loud sounds—ideally in preschool and lower elementary grades.

Unfortunately, most research and campaigns on hearing protection still focus on young adults. Researchers report a growing incidence of hearing loss among young individuals, particularly ages 12 to 19. By the time we survey young adults in college, attitudes regarding the potential danger of noise exposure have already been formed, perhaps five to 10 years earlier.

So, while college-age students are a convenient (and important) source of data, the information obtained from this age group probably reflects the consequences of attitudes most likely developed at a younger age.

In the spirit of Better Hearing and Speech Month, what can we do?

We should amplify our warnings to young people about noise-induced hearing damage. The use (and abuse) of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol get tons of exposure. And texting while driving is certainly a hot issue. However, the effects of noise exposure get little attention. Efforts do exist to inform parents and children, such as Dangerous Decibels and Listen to Your Buds. But they aren’t as widespread as messages on texting or drugs.

As professionals in the field of communications, we should:

  • Develop a mandate for instruction in health and physical education classes regarding the damaging effects of exposure to loud sound.
  • Increase hearing screening frequency at the K-12 level—an area that has in recent years retreated, not expanded.
  • Expand efforts to promote programs such as Dangerous Decibels and Listen To Your Buds to the level of safe driving classes in high school.

Healthier attitudes toward loud sound need to be developed earlier!


Ted L. Johnson, AuD, CCC-A, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Valdosta State University. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1o, Issues in Higher Education. theodorejohnson@valdosta.edu.

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