Greatly accelerated research is offering hope not only to the nation's more than 17 million hearing impaired persons but also to those at risk for hearing impairment because of constant exposure to noise, because early deficits went undiscovered and because links of hearing problems to certain drugs were not identified.

Mounting evidence links early and continuous noise exposure to loss of hearing, says Evelyn Cherow, director of the Audiology Liaison Branch of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville. Among those recently studied for noise damage are cheerleaders and users of portable stereo earphones. The American Academy of Pediatrics warned this month that noisy toys may harm a child's hearing, citing a Swedish study in which toy weapons and firecrackers were found to be the worst offenders.

Although, Cherow notes, specialists were disappointed that the Federal Office of Noise Abatement and Control lost its funding last year, they were encouraged by the inclusion of noise on a federal list of 10 major health hazards. "It is reassuring to know that some federal agency is still concerned that noise is a problem in our society," says Cherow. More Information

ASHA and its consumer arm, the National Association for Hearing and Speech Action (NAHSA), can provide resources on noise abatement as well as on audiological and speech pathology.

Among its other functions, ASHA certifies therapists, requiring at least a master's degree, a year of internship and successful completion of an examination administered by ASHA. It publishes three refereed professional and research journals.

Write NAHSA, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. 20852. Or phone 897-8682 in the metropolitan area and Maryland. In other areas call toll free: 800-638-8255 (TALK). Voice or TTY.