Posted on Monday, July 09, 2012

Hearing Protection: Stop Work-Related Hearing Loss

Man with hearing protection over his ears.

According to the Center for Disease Control, “30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise on the job and an additional nine million are at risk for hearing loss from other agents such as solvents and metals.” Hearing loss at work can result both from harmful noise levels and from exposure to dangerous chemicals. Preserving hearing in these situations can be as simple as wearing hearing protection.

Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that help conduct the noise that constitutes your hearing. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises. This can result in temporary and permanent hearing loss, unless hearing protection is used.

Any occupation can include factors that risk hearing, but some professions have higher exposure to dangerous conditions. Workers who don't use hearing protection and are around loud equipment, like those in the transportation industry, and military personal generally have higher incidents of hearing loss. The cost of this hearing loss for the military, government, and individuals could run into the billions each year. The personal cost can be even more devastating.

Hearing loss has been shown to decrease self-esteem, cause feelings of isolation, disrupt relationships, lower income, and has recently been linked to higher incidents of Alzheimer’s and dementia. There is also extra-auditory health effects, according to a resource education guide put out by 3M. Workers consistently exposed to loud noise tend to have more hypertension, sleeplessness, and higher irritability. All of these factors seem to dissipate when hearing protection is used and sound is masked either through properly fitted hearing protection or by limiting noise from machines or equipment.

Hearing loss is the number one self-reported and one of the most common risk factors for American workers. Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is 100% preventable, so it is incumbent on employers and workers to practice safe hearing conditions within the workplace either by masking sounds from machines or by wearing properly fitted hearing protectors.

If you think you’ve already experienced dangerous sound levels and want to find out if you have damaged hearing, you should visit a hearing specialist, an audiologist or ENT. Hearing loss should be found and dealt with before it spirals into other issues like depression and brain atrophy. Even if your hearing is stable and you believe you have nothing to fear from NIHL, regular visits to an audiologist-- like visits to your eye doctor will help you retain this hearing fitness.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

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