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Campaign to Prevent Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Launched

Dr. James F. Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, reached out over the July 4 weekend (the din of fireworks notwithstanding) by satellite to television stations across the country to launch a noise-induced hearing loss campaign called WISE EARS! He was joined by Dr. Linda Rosenstock, director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; NIDCD and NIOSH have become partners in a multi-year campaign to make the public and the worker aware of noise-induced hearing loss. WISE EARS! has a coalition with 50 national groups, government agencies and private organizations committed to hearing preservation.

Ten million Americans have already suffered irreversible damage from noise, and 30 million are exposed to dangerous levels of noise each day. "It is alarming that Americans are losing their hearing at a younger age," said Battey. "The greatest increase occurs for people 45 to 64 years old. This is almost 20 years younger than we would expect. Noise exposure appears to be the culprit."

NIOSH director Dr. Linda Rosenstock meets with NIDCD director Dr. James F. Battey.

Exposure to harmful sounds damages sensitive hair cells of the inner ear, eventually affecting the nerve of hearing. These structures can be injured by noise in two ways: from an intense brief impulse, such as an explosion from a firecracker, or from continuous exposure to noise such as in a woodworking shop or from lawnmowers and leafblowers. Both forms can be prevented by regular use of hearing protectors such as ear plugs or special ear muffs. "Be aware of damaging noise, be prepared to protect your hearing, and help your kids understand how hearing works and how it can be damaged," commented Battey.

Hearing loss in the workplace is a critical safety and health issue, too. NIOSH reports that 44 percent of carpenters and 48 percent of plumbers report a perceived hearing loss. Further, 90 percent of coal miners will have a hearing impairment by age 52 (compared to 9 percent of the general population); 70 percent of male, metal/nonmetal miners will experience a hearing impairment by age 60. "Work-related hearing loss is the most common occupational disease in the U.S.," said Rosenstock. "We hope this campaign will help make workers, employers and others realize that hearing loss is not an inevitable consequence of earning a living."

The goal of WISE EARS! is to make workers and the public aware that NIHL is preventable. NIDCD's Office of Health Communication and Public Liaison developed the campaign partnership that now includes workers, employers, health professionals, teachers, parents, children, universities, unions, industry and the public. Materials produced for the campaign include fact sheets from NIDCD and NIOSH, sample radio spots, ad slicks, stickers, kids activity page, an educational resource guide for materials about NIHL, decibel level bookmark, and a WISE EARS! pin.

Coalition members disseminate information about preventing noise-induced hearing loss to their constituents and motivate them to take action against NIHL by understanding the problem and providing solutions. Collaborators in the WISE EARS! coalition are the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, American Academy of Audiology, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Association of Retired Persons, Andrews Air Force Base, Ford Motor Co., Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, KIDSNET, Farm Safety 4 Kids, and the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund.

NIDCD's recently redesigned Web site includes materials, programs and information so visitors can learn more about the coalition's activities and resources. News, events and features received from coalition members are frequently posted on the WISE EARS! site at

NIDCD is especially interested in reaching young children. The interactive Web site has a "Kids and Teachers" page with questions and answers, classroom activities and a video section. Look for "dB Owl Asks the Scientist" at the site this fall. This will be an interactive page of questions from "dB Owl" and answers from Battey and Rosenstock about the importance of hearing protection.

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