New York City launches campaign against noise-induced hearing loss


NEW YORK—New York City has launched a number of initiatives in recent years to improve the health of those who live, work, or visit there.

New York prohibited cigarette smoking in nearly all public spaces and it ordered restaurants to remove the transfats from all the food they served. Later, eateries were required to post the calorie count of the dishes on their menus. Most recently, the Board of Health passed a regulation restricting the sale of soft drinks in larger than 16-ounce containers, though a state court has at least temporarily prevented that from taking effect.

Now, the nation’s largest city is taking aim at another health hazard—excessive noise. Last month, it launched a campaign to encourage people to preserve their hearing by not turning up the volume too high on their headphones. Thomas Farley, MD, the city’s health commissioner, said, “Listening to headphones at high volume for too long can damage your hearing. If you want to continue to enjoy music in the future, you’ll turn down the volume today.”

Farley noted that research has found that younger adults who frequently use headphones turned up high report more hearing problems than those who use them less frequently and/or at lower volume. He added that nearly 25% of adults aged 18 to 44 who report heavy headphone use say they have hearing problems, and they are more than twice as likely to report hearing problems as those who report light-to-moderate use or no use of headphones.



One of the places in New York where people are most likely to use headphones is in the subway, partly to block out the din in the subway trains and in the stations. To that end, the Health Department has placed public service announcements in the subways ads. These PSAs include two photos. One, showing an ear with an earbud, is labeled “Hear Today.” The other, of an ear with a big BTE hearing aid, is labeled “Gone tomorrow.”

The campaign is funded in part by FJC: A Foundation for Philanthropic Funds and by the Starkey Hearing Foundation.



On a related note, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has named two audiologists, Sandra Levey, PhD, a professor in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at Lehman College in New York, and Brian Fligor, PhD, director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children’s Hospital and a member of the faculty at Harvard Medical School, to serve on its Noise Committee. The committee will recommend measures to encourage safe listening practices and thereby reduce noise-induced hearing loss in the city.

Levey and Fligor of Harvard Medical School are authors of a study on portable music player users published last summer in Noise & Hearing. The article reported that many of those individuals listening to music on an iPod or other such device are listening too loudly.