The Environment Our Mutual Concern

This brochure is a copy of an American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery Public Service Brochure.

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The quality of our global environment is deteriorating rapidly. As an Academy of over 9,200 physicians, we have a special responsibility to reverse this trend. The relationship between environmental factors and many diseases is well documented. We intend to take the following actions, through our Academy and as individuals, to improve environmental quality:

Educate ourselves about pollution problems in our workplaces and communities

Help our patients understand and identify medical problems in the head and neck region which are caused or aggravated by environmental pollutants

Use our medical and scientific expertise to take a leadership role in environmental protection and pollution prevention

Create environmental education programs for physicians and the public

Work with the American Medical Association and other physician organizations to improve the environment

Support health officials, legislatures, and non-profit organizations in their national, state, and local environmental efforts

Cooperate with the National Institutes of Health in developing and fostering research on pollution-related medical disorders


Noise Pollution

Hearing loss afflicts about 28 million people in the United States. The hearing loss of approximately 10 million is at least partially attributable to exposure to loud sound. More than 20 million Americans are regularly exposed to hazardous noise. Children are particularly vulnerable to excessive noise, which can permanently damage hearing. In addition to loudness, the length of exposure and the proximity to the source increase damaging effects. For example, factory noise may not harm your hearing during the early period of employment, but exposure for 8 hours a day for 10 or more years is likely to cause damage. Explosive sounds such as gun shots can cause hearing loss with a single exposure.

Hearing loss caused by noise and the natural aging process is cumulative over a lifetime, so seniors (people over 50) are particularly impacted. Increased effort required for understanding speech leads to fatigue, anxiety and stress. Resulting isolation and loneliness are common feelings. Most noise-induced hearing loss is preventable with proper use of protective ear devices and could be reduced by implementing broader preventive efforts. Labeling consumer products as to noise emission levels should be strengthened and enforced. Incentives are needed for manufacturers to design quieter industrial equipment and consumer goods. Regulations governing the maximum noise levels of consumer products, such as power tools, must be developed. Model community ordinances should control local environmental noise including noise levels at public events.


Air Pollution

Air pollution affects the nose, throat, sinuses, larynx (voice box), and the lungs.

Outdoor air pollution can cause postnasal drip, itching throat, sneezing, runny nose, recurrent sinusitis, shortness of breath, chronic cough, voice problems (especially chronic hoarseness and laryngitis) and headache. Patients with asthma are particularly at risk. These pollutants also cause "acid rain" which kills life in lakes and streams, damages forests, and reduces crop yields.

Outdoor air pollution is caused mainly by burning fossil fuels (oil, gasoline, coal). Over 50% is caused by automobile exhausts, despite the positive results from auto pollution control devices and eliminating lead from gasoline, Pollution is increasing rapidly because the world fleet gains 19 million cars each year. The main components of smog from cars are ozone and carbon monoxide. In 1986, 96 metropolitan areas (home to more than half of the nation's residents) failed to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ozone safety standard, and 41 areas violated the carbon monoxide standard.

Indoor air pollution: Most Americans spend as much as 80% of their time indoors; seniors and infants likely spend more. Gas, oil and coal furnaces, gas ranges, wood-burning stoves and fireplaces, asbestos, radon, formaldehyde, lead (from lead-based paints), indoor pesticides, and tobacco smoke pollute indoor air. The increased risk of cancer from smoking tobacco products was established conclusively several decades ago. Furthermore, tobacco usage causes changes in circulation (blood flow) that increase the death rate due to heart attack and stroke. It also contributes to bronchitis, pneumonia, and emphysema. Recently, medical research has associated passive tobacco smoke with lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and increased risk of acute lower respiratory infections, middle ear fluid, and respiratory irritation in children.

Our Academy has supported national legislation banning smoking in airplanes, public places and work areas. We are the first medical specialty to pass a resolution calling upon all members to provide a tobacco free office and offer advice on nicotine addiction. We also have a national "Through With Chew" campaign to educate the public about the health hazards of smokeless tobacco. Taste and smell can be affected negatively by pollutants and chemicals in our environment too. Decrease in the ability to taste and smell may lessen desire to eat nutritious foods and decrease the pleasure from the aromas of flowers and foods. It can lower or completely eliminate the ability to detect air and water borne toxins.


Skin cancers

Skin cancers are increasing at epidemic rates in the United States and around the world. Clearly, excessive exposure to ultraviolet sun rays is a major cause, and the impact on the skin is cumulative. Otolaryngologist-head and neck surgeons frequently treat cancers of the head and neck including those on the skin. (Skin on the face and neck is more prone to exposure to the sun.) Atmospheric scientists warn us that the ozone layer, which protects the earth from some of the cancer causing ultraviolet sun rays, is thinning in expanding areas over the Antarctic and potentially worldwide. This thinning can cause a further increase in skin cancers. It is caused by the reaction of manmade chemicals with the ozone layer - another example of human degradation to the environment. An international accord to phase out these chemicals illustrates that our actions can help solve pollution problems.

1991. This leaflet is published as a public service; material may be freely used for noncommercial purposes so long as attribution is given to the American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, Inc.,One Prince Street, Alexandria VA 22314-3357