Audiologists know the impact that loss of hearing has on their patients’ lives. Unfortunately, the first interaction with most of them comes after they have already developed some degree of hearing loss. The sad reality is many people put off getting their hearing checked until it is too late. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), it takes seven years, on average, for a person to seek treatment for suspected hearing loss. These may be the same people that are unaware of the detrimental effects loss of hearing can have on their social lives and cognitive health.
Time to rise to the challenge of prevention
As medical professionals, you possess the advanced knowledge needed to educate people about the importance of protecting their hearing and seeking treatment as soon as they notice something is wrong. Just as dentists promote the prevention of tooth decay and cardiologists raise awareness of heart health, so, too, can audiologists spread the word about hearing loss prevention.
Here are five ways you can help promote healthy hearing:
- Seek out underserved populations in your community who may be vulnerable to hearing risks, but have inadequate access to hearing loss prevention services. Create customized, educational presentations that are relatable to groups such as young children, the elderly, people with some level of pre-existing hearing loss, non-English-speaking families, small business owners, seasonal workers, self-employed individuals, the uninsured, and those living in remote areas outside of your community. Go to where they are or invite them to your office (if practical) for a free informational seminar.
- Contact local media (print, digital, and broadcast) and get them interested in a public service campaign to promote hearing health. Public service announcements (PSAs) are published, posted, or broadcast free of charge. The only cost to you is the time needed to get your effort organized. For inspiration, check out Dangerous Decibels© at dangerousdecibels.org or WISE EARS!® at www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/wise.
- Do some surveillance. If you have patients in their early teens who are already exhibiting noise-induced hearing loss, ask questions about their schools, where they work, what extracurricular activities they are involved in, and their hobbies to gain knowledge of where and when the risks of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) occur. With this data, you can learn about new venues where it may be impactful to speak about hearing loss prevention to groups most vulnerable.
- Take advantage of ready-to-use materials. Several sources have posters and other material already available to help you spread the word about hearing health within your community. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has several posters and a brochure that spark talking points about hearing health. Likewise, the National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) can send you posters that illustrate cochlear damage from noise. It also has content aimed at specific groups (musicians, hunters, farmers, and others vulnerable to NIHL). The American Academy of Audiology (AAA) markets October as National Audiology Awareness Month and National Protect Your Hearing Month. It has some nice educational materials you can download directly from its website.
- Spread the word about sound-level apps to get individuals involved in their own NIHL prevention. Let teens and adults know about available apps they can download to check decibel readings at school, on the job, during sporting events, in places they frequent etc. Research and tell them about free apps like Decibel X and Sound Meter; Too Noisy Pro which costs $3.99 to download.
Be proactive in teaching people how to detect red flag situations that can cause noise-induced hearing loss. You will be performing a beneficial service to your community and, at the same time, shining the spotlight on yourself as someone who cares about the well-being of neighbors.