Wellness Hearing Loss Prevention Initiatives

Emily Zawacki


Hearing loss prevention, already an important issue in the Conservatory, has been brought to campus-wide attention due to initiatives from the Wellness Committee and WelLU.

After an incident in the café with very loud live music during Fall Term, Professor of Music and Teacher of Saxophone Steven Jordheim approached Wellness with the idea of promoting hearing awareness across campus.

Back in 2009, the Conservatory launched a hearing loss prevention campaign in order to bring the importance of hearing to the attention of Conservatory musicians and faculty. Now with Wellness’s initiatives, the Conservatory’s efforts have expanded to include the entire university.

So far, Wellness and WelLu have conducted passive programming, which included placing educational and advisory table tents regarding hearing loss in the Warch Campus Center. These table tents call for students and faculty to “Protect your ears. Once the damage is done, it can’t be undone!”

Director of Wellness and Recreation Erin Buenzli said, “Hearing loss is something that we don’t notice, and there’s not a lot of education out there. There’s a large push in the Conservatory because it’s such a big issue for musicians, but I thought, as far as mp3 players and all the other noise that we’re exposed to, that all students needed some more education about it.

The Conservatory has been offering free earplugs at the Conservatory Office, and now the Wellness Center is offering free earplugs at their front desk as well. So far, over 400 pairs have been taken from the Wellness Center, and Buenzli has found that many people have been thankful that they’ve been offered.

In addition to taking earplugs from either the Conservatory or Wellness Center to cut down on noise and decibel level, students and employees can take other precautions in order to protect their hearing, especially regarding the use of mp3 players.

When listening to mp3 players, the volume should be kept at a bare minimum, and over-the-ear headphones should be used instead of ear buds, as they move the source of sound further away from the ear while limiting exterior noise.

External speakers should be used whenever possible, and you shouldn’t fall asleep while listening to music through ear buds. There are generally no warning signs of hearing loss, so people often don’t know until it’s too late, making preventative measures especially important.

Any sound over 85 decibels has the potential to cause hearing damage if exposed to over a long enough time. For example, a normal conversation is 60 dB, and a rock concert is 115 dB, where there is a risk of hearing damage after just eight minutes.

Freshman Linnea Garcia, who plays clarinet in the Lawrence University Wind Ensemble said, “I think that taking care of one’s ears and hearing is very important, especially for musicians. As a musician, I am constantly around loud noises in band and when I attend concerts. Even playing my own instrument can be hazardous to my hearing if I am not careful.”

All music ensembles at Lawrence generate volumes from 85-110 dB, with the Sambistas generating around 120 dB. So whether playing in them or listening to them, it’s incredibly important to be aware of the risk of hearing loss and take the proper preventative measures.

To continue their efforts with generating awareness about hearing loss prevention, Wellness plans to put up posters listing the decibels levels for different activities around campus. They will also be partnering with the Conservatory to offer hearing tests later this month. Posters and invites will be going out with more information about these tests by the end of this month.

As this issue was brought to Wellness’s attention in direct response to an incident, Wellness is interested in hearing about other issues regarding wellness that students or faculty find important.

“There’s so much that Wellness can be that if somebody is really strong and passionate about something that has to do with Wellness… We’re open to hearing about your ideas,” said Buenzli. “We welcome your thoughts, whether it’s to the Student Wellness Committee or the Faculty Committee of Wellness and Recreation.”