Awareness

Prevent the Preventable

By Neyeah Watson

International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) is observed annually on April 24 to redirect our focus to the invisible: hearing loss caused by noise, or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). More than 48 million Americans live with a form of hearing loss, and one third of all hearing loss cases can be attributed to noise exposure. In honor of INAD, sponsored by the Center for Hearing and Communication, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) urges the public to zealously protect the hearing of adults and children from the dangers of loud noise.

Loud noise can harm from exposure to one sudden, disturbing, blast-like sound (an impulse noise) or a series of loud sounds over time. Impulse noises include fireworks, explosions, car horns, gunfire, and thunder. These noises reach the outer ears unexpectedly before conversion to sound, sometimes causing immediate trauma and NIHL.

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Gradual NIHL, on the other hand, occurs over time. Sources include loud music and occupational sounds from construction sites or airport runways. Gradual NIHL can also result from hobbies, like playing in a band, attending group fitness classes, and snowmobile riding.

The irreversible damage of NIHL physically takes place when hair cells within the cochlea of the inner ear are damaged. This results in what’s called sensorineural (permanent) hearing loss.

Fortunately, NIHL is 100% preventable. For adults, protecting your ears doesn’t require a lot of effort. When going about your busy lifestyle, keep these simple techniques in mind.

  • Always keep a pair of earplugs with you. Whether you ride public transportation as a passenger or employee, loud noises accompany you on your commute.

  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones, which are safer for your ears because they prevent the user from needing to raise the volume to block out external sounds.

  • Listen to music and television at medium volumes.

  • Most importantly—give your ears time to recover. Quiet time is one of the best healing experience you can give to your ears.

Protecting your children’s hearing is easy, and begins in the home. Here’s what you can do:

  • Practice the 60/60 rule: Only listen to music at 60% of the volume for 60 minutes.

  • Inspire their preference for quiet toys such as puzzles, dolls, coloring books, and building blocks. When considering electronic toys, look for for products with volume control settings.

  • Set the TV or game consoles to reasonable volumes.

  • Make sure your child does not sit too close to the television or other noisy electronics.

  • Use plush furnishings such as curtains, carpeting, and pillows to allow for sound to be absorbed.

  • Always set an example for your children. Your use of earplugs and low volumes will allow your children to learn a behavior that will become part of their hearing lifestyle.

Life’s enjoyments don’t necessarily need to be limited by diminished hearing. We all have the power to protect our ears.



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HHF Endorses California Pediatric Hearing Aids Bill

A young girl speaks at the podium during Assemblyman Bloom’s press conference to introduce his bill to require insurance companies to cover pediatric hearing aids. Credit: Richard Bloom

A young girl speaks at the podium during Assemblyman Bloom’s press conference to introduce his bill to require insurance companies to cover pediatric hearing aids. Credit: Richard Bloom

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has formally endorsed AB 598, a bill in California calling for the expansion of hearing aid insurance coverage for children.

California resident Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D., Chair of HHF’s Board of Directors, recently wrote a letter of support to Assemblywoman Lorena Sanchez, who has stopped earlier versions of the bill. You can read her letter below.

If you live in California and would like to identify and contact your representative about AB 598, you may do so here.


Letter of Support from Elizabeth Keithley, Ph.D.

Dear Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez,

Thank you for the leadership you provide to San Diego. I write to you as the Chair of the Board of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) and Professor Emerita of Surgery/Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. I am requesting your support for AB 598, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, which will require insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids in our state.

HHF is the nation’s largest nonprofit funder of hearing and balance research. Our scientists’ work has led to development of cochlear implants, innovative ear treatments, and progress toward biological cures for hearing loss. We work tirelessly to better the lives of the 50 million Americans with hearing loss.

Beyond research, HHF has been a longtime advocate for Universal Newborn Hearing Screenings, federally mandated in the 1990s. Identifying hearing loss at birth enables parents to promptly pursue intervention for their child. The first six months of a child’s life are the most critical in forming auditory pathways in the brain to hear.

The majority of individuals with sensorineural (permanent) hearing loss, including children, can benefit from hearing aids as treatment to communicate, learn, and develop healthily. A pair of pediatric hearing aids can burden a family by as much as $6000 per pair, which generally must be replaced every three to five years. This is an out-of-pocket expense of over $40,000 before a child reaches 21.

This immense financial barrier to treatment result in absence of treatment that then inhibits children’s social, speech and language development, and academic performance. For an individual child who does not receive intervention, the estimated cost of special education and loss of productivity is $1M.

Right now, California urgently needs the help of leaders like you to relieve families from the stress of choosing between hearing aids for their children and other health necessities. The strength of the future CA workforce depends on it.

Thank you for your consideration. I truly hope you will act to support California’s children through AB 598.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth M. Keithley, Ph.D.

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Sharper Than They Expected: A Tribute to Nansie Sharpless, Ph.D.

By Neyeah Watson

Women and people with disabilities have been historically underrepresented in science. In 2014, individuals with hearing loss compromised only 1.2% of Scientific & Engineering degree recipients. Women represented only 29% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce as of the same year.

While these statistics remain low, women and people with disabilities have seen overwhelming growth in opportunity in the past 50 years, which we can attribute changes in policy, personal attitudes, and the success of some exceptional individuals. One such pioneering individual was Nansie Sharpless, Ph.D., a biochemist who lived with bilateral hearing loss. HHF has chosen to highlight her victories this Women’s History Month. Her motivation to push barriers strengthened the confidence society has in women in science today.

Sharpless was born in Pennsylvania in 1932. Though this year saw breakthroughs for women, such as the election of the first female Senator, Hattie Wyatt Caraway, and Amelia Earhart becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, limitations remained. Women’s suffrage had just become a law 12 years prior, and the Equal Rights Amendment, which mandated gender equality and prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, did not yet exist. During childhood, Sharpless gravitated toward science, mathematics, and education. Tragically, at 14 Sharpless contracted meningitis, a disease that was still considered fatal at this time. Sharpless recovered but was left with a profound hearing loss in both ears.

Credit: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Credit: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Sharpless’ hearing loss did not halt her academic goals despite the lack of accommodations for students with disabilities at this time. The Education of All Handicapped Children's Act—which mandated schools to provide students with learning, mental and/or physical disabilities equal access to education and to protect them from harassment and discrimination—was not passed until 1975.

Still, Sharpless defeated the odds. In 1960, only 35% of the total bachelor’s degrees achieved were women. In comparison to today, over 57.34% of total bachelor’s degrees are women. In 1954 Sharpless earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Oberlin College. Although Sharpless thrived in school academically, she struggled to listen in the classroom. She was fortunate to have classmates who assisted with her notetaking.

Sharpless faced similar communicative challenges in her pursuit of a master’s degree in medical technology at Wayne State University. She attended meetings, learned innovative techniques, and developed strategies to alleviate her learning obstacles.

At Wayne, Sharpless’ strong educational performance was unprecedented—and unsupported. Administrators were discouraging; in fact, the director of admissions for Wayne State University warned Sharpless she’d face unusual scrutiny in which she would be expected to achieve a perfect grade point average in order to prove that she could handle the work. Sharpless was undeterred and went on to receive her doctorate from Wayne as well.

After graduation, Sharpless was hired to conduct biochemistry research at Mayo Clinic, where she focused on the correlations between chemicals and mental disorders. Some of her most notable work includes the studying of the L-dopa metabolism in spinal fluid and its relationship with Parkinson’s Disease. Her research showcased the patterns of dystonia, a movement disorder, in response to L-dopa therapy for Parkinson's disease.

Sharpless was also fortunate to defy expectations by joining the Albert Einstein Medical College faculty as an associate professor. She was later promoted to the position of Chief of the Albert Einstein Medical College’s Neuropsychopharmacological laboratory.

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Sharpless passed at the age of 55 while still serving in the Chief position at the Albert Einstein Medical College. In her career, Sharpless published over 50 papers and penned 11 books. Through her triumphs, Sharpless illustrated that hearing loss did not limit her. She was able to utilize her passion for science to become a dominant voice within research and advancement for women and for individuals with disabilities.

March celebrates the journeys of resilient women around the world. Gender and disabilities have presented challenges to individuals, especially before protective laws were in place. Sharpless fought to be outside of the statistic, seeking her purpose within what she loved most—science.

HHF intern Neyeah Watson studies communications at Brooklyn College.

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Hyped Up Now, Hurting Later

By Yishane Lee and Lauren McGrath

In an interview, longtime healthcare professional Bob Kambic warns about the health risks of the over-amplification that is becoming increasingly common at recreational events.

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What got you interested in the topic of the dangers of loud entertainment?
I am 75 and a grandfather. Recently I was in Detroit for an event in which my grandchildren participated. The finale of the event was held in Ford Stadium, a football venue. The electronically amplified sound was deafening even wearing my noise-canceling headphones.

The 30,000 or so people in the stadium were subject to what in other places would be called torture. I wondered, is there a way to tell the organizers they are harming our young citizens, the future of our country?

As a retired healthcare professional, I have a half century of experience in the healthcare field and more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals. This got me thinking about noise levels in entertainment venues. Raising awareness of this public health problem needs to be done.

Why is the music so loud?
Consider a musician playing an electric guitar in front of a crowd. She will hear her music from an amplifier. But she then finds that she likes it loud and turns the small knob up. After weeks or months that level is not satisfactory and she makes another turn up.

Over time, as the louder sounds gradually diminish hearing, it becomes necessary to turn the knob up more and more. For music professionals, this is called increasing the gain, which is one way to increase the volume of sound from the speakers. The other way to increase volume is to turn up the signal coming out of the speakers themselves.

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When musicians play to big crowds they now have amplifiers and systems that produce thousands of watts of power and can project over 100 decibels (dB). This technology is also used for recorded music. It “entertains” but it also may harm the listeners’ ears. Musicians and their producers know that “loudness does not equal quality”—but that caution can get lost in the need to entertain.

By 2022, live music industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver. To me this means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification.

The electronically amplified sound is now also ubiquitous at rallies and sporting events, both professional and collegiate—or even younger—to hype up the crowd.

What can we do to protect our hearing, and especially the hearing of children?
Earplugs. I was happy to see an article in a music industry publication saying that the purchase of custom musician’s earplugs is one of the best investments a music industry worker can make. They didn’t recommend earphones, mixers, digital equipment, or music instruments—just earplugs. Frequent concert-goers should also invest in custom musician’s earplugs.

For children, this is a tough question because kids don’t want to be told what to listen to and how loud the sound should be. But there are a variety of products for hearing protection. The first are simple foam earplugs, widely available at hardware stores, pharmacies, and online. The disadvantage is that they must be pushed into the ear canal and may not fit all size ears. (See “8 Pairs of Earplugs in 4 Noisy Settings,” next page.)

The next step up is over-the-ear earmuffs that cover the ear entirely. They are long-lasting and work well but they are also big and bulky.

Finally there are noise-canceling headphones made by audio or electronic equipment manufacturers. I use battery-powered noise-canceling headphones on airplanes and trains, and was wearing them at the event at the Ford Stadium. You may want to explore the varying prices and technology. Many can also play personal music through wireless and/or wired connections.

Besides using hearing protection, what else can you do?
Take action against unnecessary noise. Groups of parents can petition their schools and sports teams to reduce amplification at indoor and outdoor events. Decibel meters are inexpensive or free as smartphone apps and can be used to show managers and administrators the sound level at events, and when the volume reaches dangerous levels at over 85 dB.

The music and electronic sound industry is in control of this problem because of the amount of money in the industry, but also because well-known musicians such as Huey Lewis and Eric Clapton, who are open about their hearing loss, are helping to raise awareness. Media coverage and local action can bring attention to bear, and over time the industry may become aware of amplification as a health problem for everyone, including the audience, not just for those in the industry.

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Bob (Robert T.) Kambic, MSH, is a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a current visiting scientist with the JHU Medical School Division of Health Sciences Informatics and plays and sings American traditional music using acoustic instruments.

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Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Grace’s Law

By Jeanine and Grace Gleba

In December 2008, a small (Christmas) miracle happened in the state of New Jersey and personally for our family. It’s hard for us to believe that it has been a decade since Governor Richard Codey said these words:

Grace Gleba (red sweater on right) looks on as HAIL is signed into law.

Grace Gleba (red sweater on right) looks on as HAIL is signed into law.

“I want to personally thank Grace and the entire Gleba family for their years of advocacy on behalf of children with hearing loss. Grace’s tenacity, and her own example of what children can achieve with the proper treatment for hearing loss, are a major reason why kids in New Jersey will be able to receive the gift of hearing for years and years to come. Grace and her family have taken personal adversity and turned it into something positive for the people of New Jersey. We all owe her a debt of gratitude.”  

The governor spoke as we witnessed the passage of Grace’s Law S467/A1571. These bill numbers are emblazoned forever in my mind.

Grace’s Law is known as Hearing Aid Insurance Legislation (HAIL) and mandates hearing aid coverage for New Jersey children ages 15 years and younger. For our family and all of the families who advocated in the state capital of Trenton with us, it was a monumental accomplishment. In fact, it took nine years to raise awareness and fight for this law to become a reality. The statistics validate this being quite a feat as only 3 percent of all bills introduced ever become a law!

On the law’s 10th anniversary, here are 10 ways you can celebrate this landmark legislation:

1) Take a few minutes to learn the history of the bill here and here. You can read the original legislation and the most recent pamphlet that the NJ Department of Human Services’ Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has produced explaining Grace's Law. Take note that as a result of the Affordable Care Act, the state has made this an essential health benefit and since 2014 there is no longer a maximum benefit limit of $1,000 per hearing aid (after deductibles, copays etc.). Now that’s something to celebrate—that children now can have even better coverage!

2) Support research toward a biological cure for hearing loss with a contribution to Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s Hearing Restoration Project (HRP). The HRP is a scientific consortium studying how fish, birds, and mice regenerate their hearing to replicate this phenomenon in humans.

3) Do you know a child who has benefitted from Grace’s Law and is a shining example that with their hearing aids they have overcome obstacles and achieved great things? Help them join HHF’s Faces of Hearing Loss awareness project. Their participation will show that hearing loss and related conditions can affect anyone.

4) Make a difference in someone else’s life and give the gift of sound by donating old hearing aids to Hearing Charities of America.

5) Wear earplugs for a day to gain a better understanding of living with hearing loss on a daily basis and why getting fitted for proper hearing aids can improve lives.

6) Participate in Walk4Hearing events held nationwide by the Hearing Loss Association of America.

7) Tweet a message showing your gratitude for HAIL. Tag @graceslaw and @hearinghealthfn include a link to this blog post. Here are sample tweets to get you started:

  • For 10 years #GracesLaw #HAIL has helped children in NJ hear. Help spread the word by doing something from the 10 Ways to Celebrate!

  • Millions of Americans experience some sort of hearing loss. #HAIL is needed in every state. #listenupamerica

  • #HAIL Yeah!

  • I’m celebrating #GracesLaw #anniversary by _____________.

  • #GracesLaw improved my/my child’s quality of life by ____________.

  • This year I am thankful for #HAIL #GracesLaw and hearing technology #gratitude

8) Advocate like we did 10 years ago! Last year, President Donald Trump signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017, which includes the Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act. Next, we hope Congress will pass federal HAIL for all ages. Hearing loss doesn’t discriminate, so why does insurance coverage? Write your legislators to let them know that this is important to you.

9) Schedule a hearing exam for you or a loved one.

10) Protect your hearing or lose it. People of all ages can be affected by noise-induced hearing loss. Turn down the volume on your electronic devices. Find more ways to protect your hearing.

This article was repurposed with permission from Jeanine and Grace Gleba. Jeanine Gleba serves as a public member on the NJ State Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Committee. Grace Gleba is a student in the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University, where she is majoring in communications sciences and disorders with a minor in health administration and policy.


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Suffering After Sacrifice

By Lauren McGrath

Every Veterans Day, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) celebrates the brave individuals who have served and sacrificed to defend our country. We are grateful to our active military members and veterans for their courageous protection of American values and freedoms.

As we honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, we acknowledge a tragic and troubling health problem. An astounding number of veterans—60% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—live with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. In 2017, the Veterans Administration reported 1.79 million disability compensation recipients for tinnitus and 1.16 million compensation recipients for hearing loss, the number one and two disabilities, respectively. In an HHF video about hearing loss treatment, Retired Army Colonel John Dilliard, Chair-Elect of HHF’s Board of Directors, explains, “The noise from repeated gunfire and high-frequency, high-performance aircraft engines takes its toll on the human hearing mechanisms.” Col. Dillard lives with both tinnitus and hearing loss following 26 years of service.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

Dr. Bruce Douglas, 93, remembers the moment his hearing became severely compromised while serving in the Navy during the Korean War. “On what was my 26th birthday, after pulling the trigger on the M1 rifle with no protection (none of us had any) multiple times, I was left with tendonitis in both knees—and worse, permanent, chronic tinnitus due to acoustic trauma. My hearing went downhill ever after, and every imaginable kind of sound and sensation has resulted from my tinnitus,” Douglas writes in the Fall 2018 issue of Hearing Health.

Hearing protection training must start as soon as one enters the military. But there is a misconception that hearing protection inhibits vital communication and mission readiness because hearing signs of danger is imperative to survival. “Soldiers want to be able to hear the snap of the twig and want to be able to be situationally. As a result, they are often resistant to wearing hearing protection,” Col. Dillard says.

Fortunately, sophisticated hearing protection technology does exist so that military personnel do not have to choose between protecting their ears or their lives. Examples include noise-attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, and Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, which protect against loud noises while amplifying soft ones.

The U.S. military continues to work toward safer hearing in the service. The U.S. Army has developed the Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), which are earbuds that dampen dangerous noises to safe levels using microphones and noise-canceling technology, while also providing amplification of softer sounds and two-way communication systems. An initiative by the U.S. Air Force called Total Exposure Health (TEH), meanwhile, focuses on overall health both on and off the job, will measure cumulative noise exposure over the course of 24 hours. These developments and others, which HHF applauds, are covered in greater detail in Hearing Heath’s Fall 2017 issue.

As greater preventative technology for our military becomes available, HHF remains dedicated to finding better treatments and cures for tinnitus and hearing loss to benefit the lives of millions of Americans, including veterans, a disproportionately affected group. We hope you will join us in remembering their sacrifices with gratitude and compassion.

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Sudden Hearing Loss Is a Medical Emergency

By Donna Rohwer

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Mondays are always bad, right? I awoke deaf in my left ear—completely deaf. I asked my husband if he thought it was anything to worry about and he said, “Not yet.” I thought the same and appreciated the confirmation. We didn’t know then that sudden hearing loss is a medical emergency.

Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL)

Damage to the inner ear, the cochlea, or related nerve pathways cause SSHL. A loss of 30 decibels or more in three consecutive frequencies in one or both ears within several days is considered SSHL. Immediate treatment can make partial or total recovery more likely. Unfortunately, many medical professionals— from emergency room to waiting room—don’t recognize SSHL or know how to treat it. As a result, many patients lose the opportunity for recovery because they don’t get the right treatment within the critical time. In my case, I received treatment within a week—it wasn’t optimal, but better than many. I had no significant recovery.  

SSHL Is LOUD, Isolating, and Devastating

The shocking thing to SSHL patients is how LOUD everything becomes. Sounds distort and blend together, sound direction is lost, and every sound seems magnified. The tinnitus is sudden and loud, with whooshing, popping, and other sounds. The tinnitus often worsens with activity or background noise, and goes long into the night. Some people don’t feel well, see well, sleep well, or balance well. SSHL strains relationships and many people simply stop participating in activities. I felt as if I had lost my life.  

SSHL Can Be Life-Threatening

I consoled myself at first that my condition wasn’t life-threatening. Within weeks, however, I no longer wanted to go on living. I later learned that many people respond this way. Physicians recognize the psychological impact when someone loses a limb. Losing the sense of hearing, suddenly, is not dissimilar. I didn’t know how to live with SSHL, or where to turn for support. I felt abandoned until I received the mental health support I urgently needed.

Alone at the Table

I have slowly reclaimed my life through the support of family, friends, and several Facebook groups. I also have used a cognitive therapy course for tinnitus, antidepressants (briefly), and months of working through the process. But there are still moments. My passion is recreational poker. I recently played with a mixed group, some with typical hearing, some with hearing loss. The hearing people were talking, but the background noise kept me from understanding them, and I don’t know ASL. I felt alone at the table—caught somewhere between the hearing world and the deaf world.

What Do We, as SSHL Patients, Want?

We want non-ENT medical professionals to learn about SSHL and treat it as a medical emergency. We want ENT doctors to recognize the psychological aspects of SSHL and refer us to appropriate resources. We want hearing loss advocates to see that SSHL has unique challenges different from other kinds of hearing loss. Lastly, we want a cure.

You can empower work toward better treatments and cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. If you are able, please make a contribution today.

 
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Eight Pairs of Earplugs in Four Noisy Settings: My Hearing Protection Experiment

By Kayleen Ring

Before my 2018 summer internship at Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) in New York City, I underestimated the importance of protecting my ears, often leaving myself at risk for damage from noise at concerts, sporting events, and other loud places. I took my typical hearing for granted until learning that hearing loss is largely caused by noise exposure and can negatively impact the brain function of young adults, even in its mildest forms. But I was also encouraged to discover noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is preventable. Earplugs in particular are a convenient, low-cost tool for hearing preservation.

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To improve my own hearing health and to create awareness about NIHL, I experimented with different types of earplugs in various loud settings. Expecting no more than a handful of foam options, I was excited to learn what an assortment of earplugs is available—each with different shapes, sizes, and features. Previously, my earplug experience had been limited to basic foam pairs to drown out my college roommates’ snoring!

I evaluated each personal earplug use experience with a 1 to 10 rating—10 being highest—for effectiveness, comfort, and ease of use. The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) metric indicates how much noise is blocked out by the pair of earplugs.

Setting: Concerts

Just one loud concert (decibel levels up to 120 dB) can cause permanent damage to your ears. I tested earplugs at two musical events.

1. Eargasm High Fidelity Ear Plugs

  • NRR: 16 dB

  • Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 10

At first, I worried wearing earplugs at a performance by one of my favorite artists would negatively affect my concert experience, but this pair allowed me to hear and enjoy the music perfectly at a reduced volume. They were so comfortable I forgot they were in my ears! They were easy to remove using the pull tab and I  also liked the carrying case they come in, because it fits in my small bag and keeps the earplugs hygienic for reuse.

2. Moldex Pocket Pak Squeeze

  • NRR: 27 dB

  • Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 9

  • Ease of Use: 9

The triple-flange design, neck cord, and carrying case provided a secure earplug experience at an even louder concert where sound levels spiked to 120 dB. Unprotected exposure to noise at this level, which is equivalent to that of ambulance sirens or thunderclaps, can damage hearing in seconds. Fortunately, the ridged edges on the earplugs I used made inserting them far easier and faster than foam earplugs that need to be shaped prior to use.

Setting: Group Fitness

At a popular group fitness class, I recorded sound decibel levels and the results showed extremely loud and dangerous levels of noise. The average was 91 dB and the max was 119 dB over the one-hour class period. For a healthier workout, I wore earplugs.

3. Mack’s Blackout Foam Earplugs

  • NRR: 32 dB

  • Effectiveness: 9

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 9

These were excellent because I was able to hear the music and the trainers’ instructions, just at a lower volume. Less distracted by the loud music than usual, I was able to focus more carefully on my workout and form. They fit snugly and stayed in place over the course of the 60-minute, high-intensity session.

4. EarPeace “HD” High Fidelity Earplugs

  • NRR: 19 dB

  • Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 8

I was particularly impressed that this pair included three set of filters offering different levels of protection. I used the highest decibel filter, 19 dB, and found the class music was still clear and enjoyable. My only challenge was properly inserting the very small filters.

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Setting: Restaurants

When I didn’t intern at HHF this summer, I worked at a restaurant on Long Island, New York, that was always busy, sometimes bursting with chatty customers waiting three hours for service. Beyond the crowds, the restaurant had live musical performances that amplified an already loud environment. This is dangerous for workers and patrons alike. Here, the earplugs I wore still allowed me to hear clearly and hold a conversation.

5. Etymotic ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs (NRR: 13 dB)

  • NRR: 13 dB

  • Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 8

  • Ease of Use: 9

The Etymotic earplugs had the positive qualities of the typical high-fidelity earplugs and included three interchangeable eartips, a hygenic carrying case, and a neck cord, providing a secure and effective earplug experience.

6. EarPeace “S”High Fidelity Earplugs

  • NRR: 19 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 10

This pair was great. They reduced the noise perfectly so it was at a comfortable yet still audible volume. The dual-flange design and soft silicone material made the earplugs fit well, were comfortable and easy to use.

Setting: New York City Subway

Decibel levels on the subway platforms trains are extremely high and can cause hearing damage, especially for frequent riders and employees. For my tests, I sat inside the 34th St-Penn Station 1/2/3 subway station across the street from the HHF office, where I was greeted by screeching trains, talkative tourists, and a steel drums player.

7. Moldex Sparkplugs

  • NRR: 33 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 9

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 9

The Sparkplugs blocked out noise while allowing me to hear conversations and train announcements. They were easy to mold into my ears, allowing for optimal noise reduction. The pattern on the earplugs is colorful and fun, making them appealing for children, and easily locatable in your bag.

8. Alpine Plug & Go

  • NRR: 30 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 8

  • Ease of Use: 8

These foam earplugs reduced volume but the noise was muffled. Consequently, these would be a great option for more sedentary activities, like sleeping and flying, where you are aiming to block out all noise. The foam was comfortable and fit snugly in my ears, but was challenging to mold.

The reviews and ratings here are based on my individual experiences and are not intended to encourage or discourage anyone’s use of specific earplugs. High ratings are not product endorsements. As someone newly informed about the dangers of noise, it is my hope my summer intern experiment for HHF will raise awareness and inspire others to investigate hearing protection that best meets their needs.

Kayleen Ring is a former marketing and communications intern at HHF. She studies marketing in the honors program at Providence College in Rhode Island.

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The Happiest Baby—With Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

By Nadine Dehgan

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Nothing in my life compared to giving birth and being able to hold my heart in my arms. As most sleep-deprived new parents will attest, there also is nothing quite like the helplessness you feel when this tiny person whom you love more than anything won’t settle and continuously cries (after being fed, changed, swaddled, and is fever-free).

Before my oldest daughter was born I thought I was well-equipped to be a parent. I had always been around children, was the second oldest of six children, became an aunt at 19, had a strict  pediatrician, took my parenting class seriously—and read “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” a best-selling book by Harvey Karp, M.D., recommended to me by other new parents.

Nine years later, it has been brought to my attention Karp’s ardently recommended action of “shh-ing” my daughters is extremely damaging to an infant, or any human. He advises the “shh-ing” sound needed to activate a crying baby’s calming reflex is a rough, rumbly whoosh noise that is as loud as your infant’s crying. This is at least 115 decibels (dB), according to Oregon pediatric audiologists Heather Durham, Au.D., and Shelby Atwill, Au.D. Alarmingly, sounds over 80 dB for an extended period of time are damaging and anything greater than 100 dB for even a few minutes can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

NIHL is an epidemic for American children—one in five are estimated to have significant hearing loss before the age of 20. I wonder how many children suffer from NIHL as a result of well-intentioned parents who relied on this harmful advice.

I remember reading I could put my daughters at ease by putting my mouth close to their ears and making a strong “shhhhhhhh” noise. The sound of someone’s forceful “shhhh” directly in your ear can actually be painful. (Please do not try it!) Babies have super hearing—the best hearing humans will have in their lives is when they are first born. I shudder to think how loudly I was “shh-ing” my daughters to sleep. The louder they cried, the louder I “shh-ed,” thinking I needed to do more to soothe them as I had learned.

A new grandparent and supporter of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) recently alerted me to this danger, and after testing the decibels of my so-called soothing “shhh” sounds, I immediately had a pit in my stomach because indeed the noise is loud—dangerously loud. I had “shhh-ed” my daughters for countless nights and naps. White noise machines (usually in a stuffed animal) placed right near a baby’s head can be equally dangerous.

Like sun exposure, loud noise exposure has a cumulative effect; it could be that “inevitable” age-related hearing loss is merely the result of a lifetime of living in our noisy environments with unprotected hearing. Parents with newborns who are difficult to calm down need another, less risky option for inducing sleep, one without lifelong consequences.  



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A Fast Track to Hearing Damage

By Andrew J. Guralnick

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Millions of commuters using the New York City subway system know it can be noisy, but just how loud is it? As a 2018 Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) intern, I set out to measure the danger that the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) subway system presents to riders and employees.

I found that the system significantly breaches the threshold of what is safe for our ears. To protect hearing, both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization recommend an average exposure limit of 70 decibels (dB) over the course of 24 hours. But what we measured exceeds that limit: Our samples show the average noise levels on all subway platforms and on all subway rides (inside subway trains) is between 72.5 and 76.5 dB and between 74.1 and 75.8 dB, respectively. And, with maximum readings actually as high as 119 dB on platforms and 120 dB on rides—based on actual recorded data within the sample—the NYC subway is likely an auditory minefield. (See hhf.org/subway for full data.)

Using our data’s sample averages, I determined ranges as to what the actual averages are on all subway platforms and rides through the MTA system. Based on the data, we are 99 confident about our results.

Collecting and Analyzing

From January to August 2018, three data collectors used Decibel Meter Pro, a smartphone app on iPhones and an iPad to collect 120 samples from platforms and rides. All 60 platform samples were equally represented at five minutes each. The 60 ride samples were assigned random recording lengths from 10 to 30 minutes. Samples on Saturday and Sunday or between 11 p.m. and 4:45 a.m. on any day were excluded. Random sampling was utilized as much as possible to help ensure generalizability on behalf of all platforms and rides.

The analysis examined potential harm to hearing from loud noises on subway platforms and loud noises during subway rides. For platform noise, the main variable is the number of trains that pass; for subway ride noise, the main variable is the number of local stations the train passes. We also investigated the number of seconds the subway noise level reached 75 dB or higher.

When measuring subway rides, we noted train travels between Manhattan and another borough or vice versa; whether a train runs above ground; whether the sample was collected during rush hour; and whether a local train ever becomes an express train, with fewer stops.

The statistical method of multiple regression was used to predict dangerous noise exposure on both platforms and rides. We can predict that each train that enters or leaves a platform will expose a rider’s ears to 16.53 seconds of noise at 75 dB or higher. For example, if a rider waits at a platform where two trains come and go before their train arrives, that would be a predicted exposure of 82.65 additional seconds of noise at 75 dB or higher.

We can also predict that each subway stop that is passed will expose a rider’s ears to 36.06 seconds of noise of 75 dB or higher. For example, if a rider passes 10 local train stops on their trip, the predicted exposure of noise at 75 dB or higher is 360.60 additional seconds—or 6.01 additional minutes.

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Cumulative Effect

HHF’s recommendation for commuters, MTA staff, and platform retailers such as newsstand operators is simple: Wear ear protection. MTA staff and platform retailers are at elevated risk given the hours they spend underground and on the trains. The tendency for many commuters to block noise by raising the volume of their headphones is not a helpful approach and could in fact damage hearing even more.

The subway is merely only one of many sources of daily noise. “Noise-induced hearing loss can result from a single, sudden noise event and from constant exposure to loud noises that has a cumulative effect (not unlike sun exposure) and can lead to related negative health effects when unknown and untreated,” says Lauren McGrath, HHF’s marketing manager.

The MTA appears aware of the issue of subway noise. The newly built Second Avenue subway line uses effective noise-reduction measures such as “low vibration tracks and sound absorbing panels.” We hope the MTA will continue to use these quieter, low vibration tracks when making subway and station upgrades, especially since they are more cost-effective than traditional wooden tracks.

2018 HHF intern Andrew J. Guralnick is pursuing a master’s in public administration at Baruch College in New York City.

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