Is it possible that your work environment is putting you at risk for hearing loss? This is called occupational hearing loss and it is a very common problem. Certain job types expose employees to loud noises that will cost them their hearing without the right precautions in place. Let’s review a few facts regarding occupational hearing loss and how it might factor into your job.
How Common is Occupational Hearing Loss?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states four million people in the United States work at jobs that do expose them to damaging loud noise. It’s a problem most industries face but tends to be more common in:
The CDC offers the example of the carpenter subject to regular noise like pounding hammers. He could have the hearing of a 50-year old at the age of 25 because of the constant exposure to this sound.
How Does Occupational Hearing Loss Happen?
An individual diagnosed with job-related hearing loss deals with loud noise repeatedly at work and, over time, it damages the delicate mechanisms of the ears. Think about what it would be like to listen to a jackhammer every morning, only this one isn’t on the street outside your window. It sits just one meter away from you all day long. The noise level of a jackhammer at that distance is around 120 dB.
The metric unit decibels measures more than how loud something is, too. Decibels also include sound pressure and intensity. In the case of the ear-damaging jackhammer, the real problem is vibrations. Sound enters the ear in waves that vibrate and anything over the 80 dB is a potential problem. If you are standing near the person using the jackhammer, you’ll probably have some temporary hearing loss at first. The person operating that jackhammer, though, will develop permanent hearing damage after constant exposure to this high decibel sound.
This hearing trauma isn’t limited to chronic loud noise, either. A onetime bang can do damage, too. Consider a firefighter standing next to a building that explodes. This person might have permanent hearing loss even though there isn’t constant exposure to sounds at that decibel level. The intense vibration created by the explosion is all it takes to cause damage.
How Can You Tell if You Have Occupational Hearing Loss?
Unfortunately, the primary symptom is the hearing loss itself. This is a problem for workers because the damage occurs without them even realizing it. By the time you suffer hearing loss, it might be too late to take steps to protect your ears. If you start to hear even occasional ringing in your ears, especially after work, then it’s time to find ear protection such as ear plugs or muffs to use while on the job.
If you think you have some occupational hearing loss, schedule an appointment for a hearing test. This is a regular requirement in some industries. They expect their workers to have annual hearing exams and tests to ensure they are not losing their hearing. In fact, it is very common for bartenders and servers who work in clubs where ear protection would interfere with their job.
What Should You Do if You Have Occupational Hearing Loss
If you do think you have hearing issues related to work, take immediate measures to protect your ears. For some employees, that will mean changing jobs. Occupational hearing loss is progressive in most cases. You can limit the damage by avoiding loud noise in the future.
The next step is to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist. If the hearing loss is conductive, meaning the nerves in the inner ear are intact, then wearing hearing aids will allow you to hear once again.
The best tool at your disposal when it comes to occupational hearing loss is prevention. If your job exposes you to loud noise, wear ear protection, but take precautions at home, as well. Don’t leave headphones on for long periods of time and protect your ears during recreational activities like shooting at the gun range. The things you do now will matter later in life when hearing naturally declines.