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WISE EARS!®: A NIHL Communication Coalition

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is leading a collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to raise awareness of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), a significant and completely preventable form of hearing loss. The collaboration responds to a Senate Appropriations Committee report encouraging a collective effort, and to what Marin P. Allen, Ph.D., Chief of NIDCD's Office of Health Communication and Public Liaison, notes is a pressing need for "cooperation across groups in focusing a broad range of resources on one single, but challenging effort: preventing noise-induced hearing loss."

As a first step in the collaborative effort, on December 1, 1998, 100 representatives from voluntary and professional organizations; unions; industry; and local, State, and Federal Government agencies participated in a communication planning meeting, called "Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss for the Public and the Worker," held in Bethesda, Maryland. The meeting resulted in the formation of WISE EARS!®, a national coalition of groups, agencies, and organizations committed to activating a national communications plan on hearing preservation.

"Many workers are exposed to harmful levels of noise every day," said Max Lum, Ed.D., M.P.A., Associate Director for Health Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's NIOSH. "NIOSH has been working to increase awareness among workers because many face the possibility of noise-induced hearing loss on a daily basis." Through this coalition, Dr. Lum expects that NIOSH's message will be heard in more workplaces and that, together, workers and employers will be motivated to take action to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.


How Loud Is Too Loud?

Americans live in an increasingly loud society. Ten million Americans have already suffered irreversible damage from noise. Any kind of sound that is too loud--whether it is the canons in Beethoven's Fifth, a factory assembly line, or a truck barreling down a highway--can affect sensitive structures of the inner ear, causing NIHL. Hearing loss can be caused by one-time exposure to loud sounds (acoustic trauma), or, more commonly, by repeated exposure to sounds at various loudness levels over a prolonged period of time.

The intensity of sound is measured in units called decibels (dB). This scale runs from the quietest sound the human ear can detect, which is labeled 0 dB, to over 180 dB, the noise level at a rocket pad during launch. The longer one is exposed to a damaging level (greater than 85 dB), the greater the possibility of hearing loss. Sounds of less than 75 dB, even after long exposure, are unlikely to cause hearing loss.

More than 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis. Individuals of all ages, including children, adolescents, young adults, and older people, can develop NIHL. Both sudden and long-term exposure to loud noise will damage and change the structure of hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea), resulting in hearing loss and tinnitus. Tinnitus is a ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ears or head, which may subside over time. Hearing loss and tinnitus may be experienced in one or both ears, and tinnitus may continue or occur intermittently throughout a lifetime. Because current technology cannot repair a noise-damaged ear, preventing NIHL is crucial.


Coalition Goals and Recommendations

The overall goal of the WISE EARS!®campaign is to spread the message that NIHL is preventable. Broad recommendations for the campaign include:

  • Increasing awareness about NIHL among all audiences: workers, employers, health professionals, teachers, parents, children, unions, musicians, industry, State and local government workers, and the general public.
  • Motivating these audiences to take action against NIHL by understanding the problem and its solutions. The campaign aims to help the public understand that everyone is at risk for NIHL, but that help is available. From using hearing protection devices to advocating changes in the workplace to developing and implementing hearing loss prevention programs, each of us can help to prevent NIHL.


The Next Steps

Below is a list of coalition members and the coordinating panel members who will represent the members by areas of interest. The panel members have agreed to serve for 2 years, starting with the plan to launch the campaign the weekend of July 4, 1999.

Coalition Members(as of June 1999)

WISE EARS!®Organization List
Academy of Dispensing Audiologists
AIHA Noise Committee
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell)
American Academy of Audiology
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS)
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
American Tinnitus Association (ATA)
Andrews Air Force Base
Better Hearing Institute
Call for Action
Center for Hearing Health
Department of Veterans Affairs, Audiology and Speech
Pathology (DVA)
Deafness Research Foundation (DRF)
E-A-R and Peltor Products
E-A-R Hearing Protection Products
Farm Safety 4 Just Kids
Ford Motor Company
Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (H.E.A.R.)
Hearing Protection
HIP Magazine, Inc.
Hyperacusis Network
James, Anderson & Associates
Laborers' Health and Safety Fund
League for the Hard of Hearing
National Association of Physicians for the Environment (NAPE)
National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA)
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
National Organization for Hearing Research
National Public Health Information Coalition
NIH Hispanic Initiative
Oregon Hearing Research Center
Safe Hearing America
Solutia, Inc.
The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
The University of Michigan
3M Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division
3M Occupational Medicine Department
USAF School of Aerospace Medicine
U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine
Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center
Washington Audiology Services, Inc.
Wayne State University
Workers' Compensation Board


Coordinating Panel Members

National nonprofit, advocacy, medical, and professional organizations
Marin P. Allen, Ph.D., National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders

Occupational safety and health organizations, employers, labor, and workplace health professionals
Max Lum, Ed.D., M.P.A., National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

National public information programs
Sally Harris, Better Hearing Institute

Hearing conservation in all sectors
Lee Hager, National Hearing Conservation Association

Hearing conservation in the manufacturing sector
Henry Lick, Ph.D., Ford Motor Company

Research regarding workers' use of hearing protection
Sally Lusk, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN

National teacher and student education technology-based resource
Karen Jaffe, Kidsnet

Occupational and environmental health and safety professionals
James Banach, M.B.A., American Industrial Hygiene Association Noise Committee

State and territory public health information officers
Kevin Teale, National Public Health Information Coalition

Union construction laborers
Scott Schneider, Occupational Safety and Health, Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America

Membership organization directed to people 50 years of age and older
Tricia Selby, American Association of Retired Persons


Last Updated Date: 
August 14, 2015