To raise awareness about communication disorders, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) joins the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in observing Better Hearing and Speech Month each May.
Occupational hearing loss (OHL) is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Each year, about 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. OHL is permanent and has a personal, social, and economic price. It is also nearly always preventable.
Approximately 15 percent of American adults, or 37.5 million people, report some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of connection with family, friends, and community. Assistive devices such as hearing aids can significantly improve the quality of life, yet only about one in four of those who could benefit from hearing aids has ever used them.
The NIDCD, ASHA, and many allied organizations educate the public about communication disorders, treatments, and current research that can improve the lives of those with hearing loss or with voice, speech, or language disorders.
This year’s Better Hearing and Speech Month theme is “Communication: The Key to Connection.”
Noise was among the first seven criteria documents which NIOSH published in the year following its establishment. The 1972 document recommended an immediate exposure limit of 90 dBA averaged over an eight-hour workshift, with “new installations” required to meet an exposure limit of 85 dBA and all workplaces required to meet the lower limit pending a feasibility study.
The recommendation allowed exposures to increase by 5 dB for every halving of exposure time (called an “exchange rate”). The criteria document also detailed methods for protecting workers exposed to noise levels in excess of these limits – methods which have collectively come to be called “hearing conservation programs.”
In 1998, NIOSH published an updated criteria document which established the recommended exposure limit (REL) at 85 dBA for all workplaces, reduced the exchange rate to 3 dB, and shifted the emphasis from “hearing conservation” to “hearing loss prevention.”