Hearing loss is a problem that is not just limited to the elderly—in fact, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that it is the third most common chronic condition. When hearing loss occurs on the job, it is called “occupational hearing loss.”
What Is Occupational Hearing Loss?
Occupational hearing loss, or OHL, can be caused by a number of work-related exposures. Most intuitively, it can be caused by loud noises, specifically those that are 85 decibels or higher (for reference, that is the level of sound emitted by a leaf blower). The higher the decibel level, the greater the risk of hearing loss. However, cumulative exposure, meaning the amount of time a person is exposed to a hazardous sound, is also important.
Beyond hazardous noises, many work settings also have chemicals present that make people more vulnerable to loud noises, or that can cause hearing loss themselves. These chemicals are known as “ototoxic,” meaning “toxic to the ear.” Examples of ototoxic chemicals within a work environment include solvents, mercury compounds, carbon monoxide, and pharmaceutical agents.Whether from loud noises at work, exposure to toxic chemicals, or both, occupational hearing loss can be permanent. When the nerve endings in the inner ear are exposed to a very loud sound, or to prolonged noise at a high level, they can die. This damage cannot be reversed with medical or surgical treatments, though hearing can be improved with hearing aids.
Jobs That Cause Hearing Loss
Certain occupations are more notorious for inducing occupational hearing loss. These include factory worker jobs, as many manufacturing machines operate at a high decibel level and workers are exposed to sounds for a prolonged period. Construction workers are also prone to occupational hearing loss, as their equipment emits high decibel levels. Musicians may also be at risk, especially rock musicians. Healthcare workers, especially those who use loud drills—such as dentists or orthopedic surgeons—are also at risk of occupational hearing loss. First responders, police officers, and people in the military are exposed to noises such as sirens and artillery firing that can damage hearing as well.
Tips on Preventing Hearing Loss on the Job
It can be intimidating to learn about the hearing risks inherent to various workplaces. However, it is possible to prevent hearing loss in the workplace, and many workplaces already have regulations put into place to protect their workers. It is critical that workers follow the guidelines within their workplace to avoid unnecessary hearing damage.
Beyond following an employer’s workplace guidelines, the best thing to prevent hearing loss is to wear properly fitted ear protection. Custom hearing protection takes into account individual ear anatomy, and it can help prevent hazardous sounds from reaching the inner ear. Removing oneself from noise exposure as much as possible is also helpful—precautions like taking a lunch break away from a loud workplace or using equipment sparingly, if possible.
How to Learn More About Occupation Hearing Loss
If you’re interested in protecting your hearing at work or finding treatment for occupational hearing loss, it’s essential to see an audiologist. An audiologist can assess your hearing to determine how to best preserve your hearing and treat any existing hearing loss.
With leading edge technology and skilled, professional staff, Sonora Hearing Care is the resource you need for audiology treatment, diagnosis, and more. For a comprehensive hearing evaluation, or treatment of occupational hearing loss, contact us today.