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Hearing loss program at University of Northern Colorado receives national award

By Kelsey Hammon
On March 11, 2013

UNC's Dangerous Decibels program, a collaboration with Oregon Health and Science University, Portland State University and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, was recently recognized for their originality in noise induced hearing loss research with the Safe-in-Sound Innovation in Hearing Loss Prevention Award.

This award was presented through the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in partnership with the National Hearing Conservation Association. While taking precautions to protect the ears from loud noise may not be a top concern of college students for whom  attendance of concerts, clubs and sporting events is a regular occurrence, Dangerous Decibels is seeking to protect and preserve the ears' ability to hear. Many young people are at risk of or already demonstrating tinnitus - ringing of the ears.

The innovations created through Dangerous Decibels are being used to spread the word about how people can protect their ears from tinnitus and take precautions to keep their hearing intact.

For associate professor Deanna Meinke, finding new ways to teach people about hearing loss is a priority. The commemoration of Dangerous Decibels shows that, like Meinke, the university is actively trying to engage students to protect their hearing.

"I think it is a perfect example of UNC's commitment to the 'Teacher-Scholar' model of education and a commitment to scientific outreach that benefits our communities," Meinke said.

Meinke also said roughly 17 percent of males and 16.7 percent of females aged 12-19 have hearing loss suggestive of noise damage.

Dangerous Decibels uses three basic guidelines to protecting ears from loud noise: walk away, turn it down and cover up. According to Meinke, students don't necessarily have to avoid loud noises completely, but the time spent at a loud event should be limited.

"It doesn't mean you can't enjoy your favorite song at a louder volume setting or attend a concert or sporting event, just don't work a noisy job, go to a concert and ride a motorcycle in the same timeframe," she said. "Your ears tolerate small doses of loud sounds and need time to recover in between."

Dangerous Decibels has both graduate and undergraduate students researching ways people can protect their hearing. To test experiments, they've developed a mannequin named Jolene.

Jolene has a replica human ear that's sensitive to sound and can measure sound levels. Meinke said that 18 Jolenes have been built and are utilized at government agencies, 9News Health Fair, hospitals, universities, audiologist clinics and workplaces.

Audiologist and project director for Safe-in-Sound, Thais Morata said working with the University of Northern Colorado has helped develop new strategies that can be implemented and protect the hearing of people in different work environments.

"We try to find strategies that work, and this helps us find ways to spread the word," Morata said.

She described the award as a way to motivate people to approach the organization and share their research and to foster an atmosphere of mutual collaboration among several universities. Through this collaboration, different projects become recognized and their innovations applied.

"Loud noise doesn't really bother me," said Jill Kappel, a UNC alumna, who, like many college students enjoys concerts and blasting her favorite music.

It's important to recognize and appreciate our ears and their sensitivity, because hearing is something that many might take for granted until something goes wrong. Checking hearing abilities can help someone assess for future damage.

Potential hearing loss is detected by examining the tiny hairs on the inner ear with highly sophisticated tools. Students interested in getting their hearing examined, appointments can be made at the UNC Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Clinic, located in Gunter Hall on central campus.

"Our hearing never stops working 24 hours a day," Meinke said. "We take (our ears) for granted and seldom worry about our hearing until something goes wrong, yet often there are opportunities for early intervention to prevent further hearing loss."
 


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