I’m seeing more and more kids in my practice with hearing loss from noise. How does Starkey Hearing Foundation’s Listening Carefully initiative address this alarming issue?
Dave Fabry: A lot of people are familiar with the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s efforts both domestically and internationally to identify, fit hearing aids, and follow up with patients who have hearing loss. The Listen Carefully initiative looks to prevent hearing loss.
With hearing aid market penetration at approximately 20% in the U.S., we feel there’s still plenty of work for Starkey and other manufacturers to address hearing loss that has already occurred, much of which is not preventable. However, the number of preventable hearing losses, particularly among teens and young people, is alarmingly on the rise. The World Health Organization recently made a statement estimating that more than one billion young people around the world are at risk of hearing loss because of recreational noise exposure. That to me is just a staggering number given that we have seven billion people on the planet right now. They cited data indicating that nearly half of 12- to 35-year-olds listen to unsafe sound levels on personal audio devices, and that nearly 40 percent are exposed to dangerous levels in recreational activities.
We think this is already the beginning of an epidemic. Listen Carefully was developed as an initiative to raise awareness about noise-induced hearing loss and prevention of non-occupational noise damage. If you consider the numbers, I would ask you to simply look around you next time you are in a group of people or in a public place. Chances are, about half the people you see are plugged in to standard earplugs, and they’re listening to music. As you know, the brain really doesn’t care what you’re listening to whether it is an annoying noise or your favorite song. The brain cares about the intensity and the duration of sound, and depending on that combination the noise may be damaging. What we’ve seen with the portable listening device generation is that they are unnecessarily exposing themselves in many cases to the same noise levels as the factory workers of decades ago. The result is that one in six teens now has some measurable noise-induced hearing loss caused by loud sounds.
As an aside, I also saw this firsthand in a clinical capacity. Before I joined Starkey I was at the University of Miami Medical Center. The University of Miami has an outstanding music program, and we started a program to measure the hearing of every incoming freshman that was a music major. I conducted many of these screenings myself. A number of these students, who were devoting their careers to music and many of whom were prodigy musicians, were already showing signs of noise-induced hearing loss. Many had considerable noise notches on the audiogram, even though they were seventeen or eighteen years old.
Teen hearing loss in the last decade alone has increased by 30%. So that’s why we think this initiative is critically important.
Taylor Joseph: Listen Carefully aims to ensure that the public, particularly young people, are aware of this issue. By getting up to speed on the details of recreational hearing loss, they can take steps to protect their hearing in their daily lives. Dave mentioned portable listening devices, which is one issue. Others include concerts, nightclubs, lawn mowers, and even sporting events.
The goal of Listen Carefully to raise awareness of these issues and help to prevent hearing loss. We’ve partnered with athletes and celebrities from Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks and Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals, to Grammy-nominated musicians like Aloe Blacc and others, to help us spread the message.
Last fall, we launched a national video contest for middle and high school students. The point of the contest was for students to create thirty-second videos on the issue of noise-induced hearing loss. We know that peers teaching peers is a very impactful way to get a message across. The response to the video contest was fantastic. We had more than 3,000 participants representing all 50 states and received 179 video submissions. From there, we narrowed it down to the qualifying finalists, and had an open nationwide vote. The winning team was from a school in Irvine, California. Aside from each team member receiving a GoPro, Aloe Blacc played a private concert this spring at the winners’ school. For more information, please visit https://www.listencarefully.org
This Ask the Expert is an excerpt from a full interview on the topic of Starkey Hearing Foundation's Listen Carefully initiative. Read the full interview here.