(Rockville, MD – March 2, 2022) With 1 in 8 children and 1 in 4 adults in the United States estimated to have hearing loss due to exposure to excessive noise, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Hearing Loss Association of America are joining the World Health Organization (WHO) in a global effort to champion hearing protection this World Hearing Day (March 3). This year’s observance will feature a watershed moment in the realm of hearing health: the introduction of WHO’s new global standard for noise in entertainment venues.
According to the global health agency, 40% of people ages 12–35 in high- and middle-income countries are exposed to damaging sound levels in entertainment settings. Such exposure can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)—a completely preventable yet irreversible form of hearing loss that threatens people of all ages. This year’s World Hearing Day theme, To hear for life, listen with care, is intended to educate the public about the risk of NIHL and steps to mitigate it.
In 2021, WHO launched the World Report on Hearing, which highlighted the increasing number of people living with and at risk of hearing loss. According to the report, nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050. WHO highlighted noise control as one of the seven key H.E.A.R.I.N.G. interventions and stressed the importance of mitigating exposure to loud sounds.
“More than 1 billion young people globally are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss due to unsafe listening to personal technology devices and at noisy entertainment venues. ASHA has worked in tandem with WHO for years to educate the public on the importance of hearing protection,” said ASHA 2022 President Judy Rich, EdD, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL. “We applaud the agency for its work on this new global standard, and hope it serves as an impetus for action at many different levels to help reverse this trajectory of hearing loss.”
“We know the toll hearing loss can take on a person’s physical and mental health, as well as personal relationships,” said Barbara Kelley, executive director of HLAA. “With hearing loss projected to increase steadily in the coming decades, it’s imperative that we prioritize and normalize hearing protection for all.”
Global Standard for Entertainment Venues
WHO has developed a set of evidence-based recommendations to reduce the risk of hearing loss in people visiting entertainment venues and events. They are as follows: (1) limiting sound levels to a maximum of 100 dBL (the measured average sound level over 15 minutes); (2) monitoring and recording sound levels using calibrated measurement equipment by designated staff members to allow safe listening and enjoyable sound quality; (3) optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems; (4) making personal hearing protection, such as earplugs, available to patrons—with instructions for use; (5) providing access to quiet zones to afford people an opportunity to rest their ears and thus decrease risk of hearing damage; and (6) delivering training and information to staff and audience members on hearing protection.
WHO also is providing recommendations for how the standard can be used by various parties—including governments, owners and managers of venues, industry associations and educational institutions for musicians and sound engineers, event organizers, and others.
Hearing Protection Across the Lifespan
Domestically, ASHA and HLAA are spotlighting the WHO’s global standard as well as collaborating on a toolkit for its memberships with a series of educational graphics intended for the public. These tools promote how individuals can protect their hearing, and that of their loved ones, across the lifespan. Educational pieces inform on noisy events, in alignment with WHO’s theme and standard, as well as on other everyday hazards to hearing.
The groups stress that hearing protection (1) should begin at birth, with common risk factors for infants and toddlers being loud toys and nursery accessories; (2) should continue through childhood and adolescence, with earbuds, headphones, and noisy activities/events being among the common risks; and (3) should extend into adulthood, when noisy occupations, hobbies, and a lifetime of noise exposure can compound risks for age-related hearing loss.
Across the age ranges, protective tips are largely consistent:
ASHA and HLAA encourage anyone with concerns about their hearing to seek a full hearing evaluation from a certified audiologist. Signs of trouble include buzzing or ringing in the ears, pain, or sudden difficulty hearing. Audiologists can also help provide customized hearing protection. A searchable database of audiologists can be found at www.asha.org/profind.
About the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
ASHA is the national professional, scientific, and credentialing association for 223,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists; speech-language pathologists; speech, language, and hearing scientists; audiology and speech-language pathology support personnel; and students. Audiologists specialize in preventing and assessing hearing and balance disorders as well as providing audiologic treatment, including hearing aids. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) identify, assess, and treat speech, language, and swallowing disorders. www.asha.org
About the Hearing Loss Association of America
The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) is the nation’s foremost organization representing people with hearing loss. The mission of HLAA is to open the world of communication to people with hearing loss through information, education, support, and advocacy. HLAA holds annual conventions, organizes Walk4Hearing events in cities across the country, publishes Hearing Life magazine, provides online learning and support webinars, advocates for the rights of people with hearing loss, and has a network of chapters and state organizations across the country.
Francine Pierson, ASHA, [email protected] and 301-296-8715