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CDC Telebriefing: New Vital Signs Report - Too loud! For Too long!

Press Briefing Transcript

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm E.T.

Please Note:This transcript is not edited and may contain errors.

MICHELLE BONDS: Thank you, I would like to thank you all of you for joining us today for the release of the latest CDC vital signs.  This one introduces new information about noise induced hearing loss.  We are joined by the acting CDC director, Dr. Anne Schuchat.  I would like to turn the call over to the doctor Schuchat. 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT:  thanks so much, and thank you all for joining us for today's vital signs report.  Each month, we focus on the latest data about a critical health issue facing our nation and what can be done about it.  This month our topic is noise induced hearing loss, there's more than 40 years of research about the effects that noise in the workplace has on hearing.  But today's vital signs, looks at the surprising amount of hearing damage caused by noise in our homes and communities.  Our key findings are that lots of people have hearing loss as a result of too much noise. 40 million Americans or every fourth American adult that is more than have diabetes or cancer.  More than half of the 40 million report no exposer to loud noise at work.  And about 20 percent of young adults, age 20-29 have hearing damaged by noise.  1 in 4 people who will report that their hearing is excellent or good, already showed some degree of hearing damage.  Noise is all around us and the good news is, preventing noise induced hearing loss is relatively easy and some approaches don't cost much.  You can turn it down.  Keep it down or move away from the source.  Noise exposer is an important health issue.  It can contribute to many other health problems such as worsening anxiety, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.  It’s hard to know if you have hearing damage unless your doctor screens for it and orders a hearing test, and many people with hearing loss don't realize they have it and think their hearing is fine.  But it's important for health care providers and the public to understand the risk that loud sounds pose to our hearing.

 Hearing loss has become an almost expected occurrence as people age and most of us have personal experience with the loved one that has had to cope with the frustration, anxiety and even stigma that can accompany severe hearing loss.  However, our analysis of recent health survey data, shows that noise is damaging hearing before anyone notices or diagnosis it, because of that the start of hearing loss is under recognized, we report today the results of a study using the national health and nutrition examination survey, which analyzed survey responses from 3,583 people age 20-69 who agreed to take a hearing test during 2011 or 12. 

We found that nearly 1 in 4 had hearing damage.  Passed studies have shown that people exposed to loud noise at work developed hearing loss. In our study almost 1/3 of those that worked in noisy environments had hearing damage in one of the areas.  Past studies showed that protective precautions cut the chances that someone will have hearing damage from workplace noise.  Surprisingly, we found that 20 percent of adults without noisy jobs also had hearing damage from noise.  About 20 million American adults have hearing damage indicative of noise exposer that probably comes from every day activities in their home and community.  People may not realize that these kinds of exposers can cause permanent damage. 

Noise related hearing damage was evidenced on the hearing tests of 1 of every four adults who reported excellent to good hearing.  Making it a bigger problem than we previously knew.  Hearing loss from noise occurs at any age even among very young adults.  We found noise related hearing damage in 19 percent of people in the 20 to 29 age group.  This is especially concerning, because as people are exposed to more allow sounds over time, their hearing worsens that speeds the concerns of other factors, such as aging.  In fact, noise exposer is the second most common cause of hearing loss next to aging.  The louder the noise and the longer you are exposed to it the more likely it will damage your hearing.  The cost of the hearing loss treatment in older adults is projected to escalate to 51 billion dollars by 2030. While we continue to gather data to shed the impact of noise on our homes and communities there are steps we can take.  Noise is all around us.  We are so used to it that we do not recognize that loud noises from activities at home.  Like mowing our lawns, and blowing leaves or spending time in a home woodworking shop can hurt our hearing as much as noise at work.  Crowd noise at rock concerts or sporting events activities we do for enjoyment can be loud enough to damage our hearing and being stuck in traffic with horns honking and sirens blaring puts our hearing at risk.  Protecting the hearing from loud sounds is relatively simple and doesn't cost much.  Avoid noisy places wherever you can.  If you must be in a noisy environment, step away from the sound source and try to minimize how long you stay in the noisy area.  A convenient low-cost pollution is to carry ear plugs with you.  If you know you are going to be exposed to loud noise regularly, you can use protective ear muffs or noise cancelling headphones.  At home and in the car, keep the volume down.  Even though the evidence is mixed about whether ear buds or headphones contribute to hearing loss, it's still smart to keep the volume down and take breaks from listening.  You can use a smartphone app to see whether sounds are at or above dangerous levels.  If you know you have been exposed to a lot of loud noise or if you are concerned that you are not hearing as well as you are used to, you can talk to your doctor about a hearing checkup.  Doctors and other health professionals play an important role in identifying hearing loss at early stages.  CDC is encouraging doctors and other clinicians especially those involved in primary care to ask about trouble hearing as part of routine care. 

Here's the bottom line.  Every day, loud noises in our communities and homes are potentially damaging our hearing.  Clinicians can ask about hearing trouble on loud noise exposer in routine exams and can recommend preventive actions to take.  Protect your hearing while you still have it, don't wait until it's too late.  I would like to turn things back to Michelle to moderate the questions. 

MICHELLE BONDS: Ready for questions.

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question, please press star 1 on your touchdown phone.  Again, press star 1 to ask a question and record your name at the prompt.  Our first question comes from Mike Stobbe.  From The Associated Press. 

MIKE STOBBE: Hi, thank you for taking my call.  Hey, doctor, first, you said a couple of times that this finding was surprising, could you, could you amplify on that, why was it surprising?  was there some other data that had suggested that it was lower or -- what, could you give us more context about why that was surprising and what you all had expected go engine and could you say something about whether hearing loss is increasing or decreasing in the united states especially for people who don't have workplace exposers? 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT: Thanks, mike.  the surprising result related to people who don't have work exposer to noise, it's -- there's quite a bit of research right now about noisy jobs.  And the workplace, I believe, has been getting safer in terms of worker protection on many jobs that have quite a bit of noise exposer.  People have not really been focusing on noise in the community and the effect that that can have on our hearing.  So, when the analysis found that many adults who don't have noisy workplaces already have evidence noise related hearing damage, we were surprised.  Our analysis cannot tell us whether this is getting better or worse, that is something that will be the subject of future analysis. There was a recent analysis though that is looking at general hearing loss, not noise induced hearing damage measured with the audiology tests that were done here, but a general survey other kinds of surveys that look at other results.  That did find the proportion of adults with general hearing loss was a little bit better in the 2011-12 period compared to the 1999-2004 period.  That was reported back in December with a very different measurement of hearing loss than this noise induced hearing problem.  So, I think in general, it's likely that workplaces have been reducing the noise exposer that workers have, but we have not taken steps as individuals to protect our hearing at home or in the community and what we find from this result today is that there's a lot of community or home related noise induced hearing damage as the horn blows behind me.  Perhaps you are picking that up, and just, it is surprising that, that community exposer is enough to damage our hearing.  Because we know hearing damage from noise is permanent, we want people to be thinking about this, before they lose their hearing.  When they can still take steps to protect their hearing. 

MIKE STOBBE: So are you saying that it's the first time that the CDC studied it in this particular way? 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT: That’s correct.  We haven’t looked at the noise associated hearing damage without work exposers.  There are lots of future analysis that can be done, but this was a new finding.  The two key new findings, are how frequent it was for people who don't have noisy jobs to have noise induced hearing damage and the new finding was that people as young as 20 to 29 already had noise induced hearing damage on testing.  Those are important findings, because they suggest that people who did not worry about it, may need to start paying attention to protecting their hearing.  Next question.  Operator, next question, please. 

OPERATOR: Lenny Bernstein, with the Washington Post, your line is open. 

LENNY BERNSTEIN: Hi, Dr. Schuchat, thank you for taking my question.  I was surprised that there was not more emphasis on personal music devices, iPods, ear buds, headphones and the like as a major source of environmental noise and hearing loss.  Why is that? 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT: So far the data our mixed on that issue, of course, it's a big question that people have that we are interested in.  The evidence is mixed about the personal listening devices or music.  But, we know that because noise induced hearing damage is permanent, to be on the safe side, keeping the volume down, and limiting the time is probably reasonable.  That is a subject though, that will be studied over the years ahead. 

LENNY BERNSTEIN:  Thank you. 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT:  Next question. 

OPERATOR:  Next, we have Maggie Fox from NBC News, your line is open. 

MAGGIE FOX: Well, that was my question as well, the kind of exposers like earbuds. But, let me ask you this, can a short-term exposure affect your hearing as well, something like a loud ambulance or a fire engine going by.  There’s no way that people can really prepare for that.  Is the damage cumulative, is it a one-time thing.  Can you explain the process?  Thank you. 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT:   The issue of noise induced hearing damage is a question of too loud for too long and the depending how loud it is, a shorter time exposer may be risky.  In the vital signs fact sheet, there's a really nice figure that shows that damage can occur from a siren with just one minute of very loud exposer, versus two hours of a leaf blower.  It’s really this product of how loud it is and how long you are exposed to it and if we are talking about people in their 20s who have loud noise exposer over decades, that is where we think, taking steps to protect yourself is reasonable.  Does everyone need to wear ear plugs all day long, day in, day out, of course not.  but we think it's an important issue that people may want to prepare to protect themselves for.  If you know you will be in a noisy place, you can take steps to prepare for that.  And just offer that whether one of the technical experts wants to supplement that at all? 

 

>> Dr. SCHUCHAT, I think you nailed it. 

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT: Okay, next question. 

OPERATOR: There are no other questions in the queue, if you would like to ask a question, press star one and record your name at the prompt. 

MICHELLE BONDS: Well, thank you, dr. shook it, I believe, and thank you all for joining us, as well as the reporters for follow-up questions call the press office at 404-629-3286.  Or e-mail, media@cdc.gov, thank you for joining us, this concludes our call.  

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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

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