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Hearing Loss Prevention Is Personal For OHSU Researcher

OHSU hearing expert will lobby decision-makers next week to include hearing loss prevention in elementary school curricula

Oregon Health & Science University hearing researcher Robert Folmer, Ph.D., will speak from personal and professional experience about the damage loud noise can do to one's hearing at the Washington Advocacy Conference hosted by the American Academy of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery next Tuesday, March 7.

Folmer, an associate professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery in the Oregon Hearing Research Center, OHSU School of Medicine, suffers from significant high-frequency hearing loss in his left ear, and he says he knows exactly why.

"I gave it to myself."

From age 10 to 20, Folmer would occasionally go duck hunting with his family and practice shooting clay targets with his 12-guage shotgun. "No one ever wore hearing protection," he said.

Shotguns are so loud - up to 160 decibels - they can cause immediate hearing loss every time they're fired if the shooters' aren't wearing earmuffs or earplugs, Folmer explained.

Before becoming a hearing specialist, Folmer said he also used power tools and attended some loud music concerts without hearing protection. Now, at age 48, he has more hearing loss in his left ear than is normal for a man his age. He also suffers from a common side effect of noise-induced hearing loss: tinnitus, often described as incessant hissing, buzzing or ringing in the ear.

Sadly, like most cases of noise-induced hearing loss, Folmer's hearing loss was completely preventable. "If someone would have told me or my family why and how to protect ourselves from excessive sound exposure, things might have been different," he said.

This is the crucial message he brings to Washington.

Folmer and colleagues in OHSU's Oregon Hearing Research Center developed a comprehensive education program that covers the causes and prevention of noise-induced hearing loss. The Dangerous Decibels program includes permanent exhibits at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, classroom instruction, and teacher training. Based on their research, such programs are most influential and beneficial when taught in elementary school.

In addition, noise-induced hearing loss prevention was among the recommendations set forth by Healthy People 2010 (a list of goals and strategies developed by the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services), explained Folmer. "Unfortunately, almost no one is making any efforts to implement these recommendations. The result is every day, more people are added to the list of 10 million Americans who have noise-induced hearing loss. And more people develop chronic tinnitus as a result of excessive sound exposure."

The American Academy of Otolaryngology, the host of the Washington Advocacy Conference, also supports hearing loss prevention education in schools, Folmer said, but until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorses the idea, it is unlikely to be implemented nationally. Folmer plans to talk with Oregon representatives while in Washington, D.C.

For more information about hearing loss and tinnitus prevention, visit the Dangerous Decibels Web site, For more information about the loudness of common sounds, visit

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Oregon Health & Science University is Oregon's only health and research university. Through healing, teaching, research and community service, OHSU improves the well-being of people in Oregon and beyond. Each year OHSU trains approximately 3,700 students and trainees at its four schools; treats nearly 185,000 medical and dental patients at its hospitals and clinics; earns $274 million in research and training awards, and provides outreach services in every corner of the state.

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