Hearing is one of our most important senses, and we heavily rely on it to get on with our day-to-day life, go through our tasks, communicate with others, etc. But we can face hearing loss problems at any point in our life, as due to various factors, our hearing ability and hearing health can deteriorate. Hearing loss can be of many types and degrees depending on the reasons behind your problems, but one of the many common reasons is getting exposed to constant loud noise for an extended period of time. And this can happen due to one’s occupational circumstances, which you can call occupational Hearing Loss.
What is Occupational Hearing Loss?
As said earlier, repeated or constant exposure to loud noise, vibrations, etc., can result in hearing loss problems by causing damage to a person's inner ear and the hearing cells inside it.
Occupational Hearing Loss occurs due to occupational hazards, such as excessive constant loud noise and ototoxic chemicals. Loud noise can cause tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. And it is one of the most common workplace hazards. It has been a huge occupational concern worldwide, as any sound that is over 85dB can cause hearing loss problems upon long time exposure. There are many occupations out there, such as airline ground maintenance, construction, various military jobs, jobs involving machinery, jobs in the music industry, etc., where professionals are exposed to loud noise.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 22 million workers in the United States are constantly being exposed to high noise levels in their workplaces. It can potentially cause OHL, and about 10 million get exposed to solvents, and many others get exposed to other ototoxic agents as well. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has found in a 2016 study that the mining sector workers had suffered the most from hearing impairment and the pirate's 17%. The rate is 16% for construction workers and 14% for the workers of the manufacturing sector. Overall, 33% of working-age adults with occupational noise-induced hearing loss were exposed to the noise in their respective workplaces. These numbers regarding occupational hearing loss statistics is indeed a matter of grave concern and all must take it seriously if diagnosed.
Causes and Factors of Occupational Hearing Loss
Occupational hearing loss is a sensorineural hearing loss, and prolonged exposure to a high level of noise is the main cause of sensorineural deafness. The loud noise goes through the outer ear, eardrum, ear canal, and then goes through the middle ear and inner ear, and then the auditory cells of the inner ear get damaged due to the loud noise. The auditory cells don't recover if they get destroyed once, and as a result, a person falls victim to noise-induced hearing loss, which is a permanent type of hearing loss problem.
Occupational noise-induced hearing loss is caused in the same way, as a person can suffer from it if they get exposed to prolonged loud noise at their workplace. If a person works in an environment where they have to endure loud noise, the damage to their hearing will be directly proportional to the duration of exposure to loud noise and the intensity of the noise.
Several factors influence the level of risk of someone has occupational hearing loss. These are-
Noise Level: The risk increases a lot with the noise level. The more the noise level is at the workplace, the more the workers' hearing loss problems increase. Noise levels over 85 dB can cause the problem, and their workplaces get their workers exposed to 90, 100, 120, and even 130 dB of noise constantly for hours.
Duration of Exposure: The longer someone gets exposed to the noise, the riskier it gets.
Impulsiveness: The noises that are very sudden and start and stop abruptly cause more risk than constant loud noise of the same level.
Ototoxic Chemicals: Some ototoxic chemicals can cause occupational hearing loss. Solvents such as styrene, toluene, various metals and compounds, specific antineoplastic agents, asphyxiants, nitriles, etc., are some examples of ototoxic chemicals. These chemicals make a person's ears more susceptible to loud noise or cause OHL.
Symptoms of Occupational Hearing Loss
When a person falls victim to occupational hearing loss, they can show various symptoms of it. Which includes-
- They face severe difficulties in communicating with other people.
- They need to raise the volume a lot while listening to music or watching television.
- They experience insomnia and various sleeping problems.
- They suffer from tinnitus, which means they keep hearing a constant buzzing or sound in their ears, which annoys them.
- They find it hard to concentrate on their work.
How to Avoid Occupational Hearing Loss?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health standards, if the noise exposure is at or above the level of 85 dB, and if a worker gets exposed to it for 8 hours a day, it puts them at a higher risk of occupational hearing loss. So, based on the standards of OSHA, if in a workplace these conditions are exceeded, then employers are required to execute a hearing conversion program that will try to prevent initial OHL, protect and preserve the worker's hearing, provide them hearing protection devices, and the knowledge they need to safeguard themselves. Also, administrative and engineering controls are needed in the workplaces. Here are some necessary preventive measures:
Monitoring the Noise Volume
It needs to be monitored if the sound volume is below 85 dB or not, and if it's not the case, then OSHA standard has to be maintained.
Wearing Proper Hearing Protection
When the noise levels are over 85 dB, it is a must to wear hearing protection. The administrations of those working places must ensure it.
Having Your Hearing Checked Annually
You can sit with an audiologist annually if you work in such conditions to check if you have any hearing loss problems. You can take measures sooner if you can find it out quickly.
How You Can Cure Occupational Hearing Loss
As noise-induced hearing loss damages nerve endings of the inner ear, the hearing loss problem is permanent. It will heavily affect your hearing ability, ability to understand speech and communicate. And you won't be able to have normal hearing ever again. Instead, you can go through measures that will help you have better hearing.
One such measure is using hearing aids. Hearing aids are one of the most influential and popular solutions, as they amplify the sounds based on a person's need to hear the sounds around them properly. Hearing aids can provide many other features apart from amplifying the sound to make life more convenient. They can help a person blend in various environments thoroughly by deploying adjusting features. With these, a person can communicate with others quickly and maintain their personal and social lives properly.
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Online Hearing Tests
Although it is preferable to see an audiologist and take an occupational hearing loss test with them, many people don't find the time to do so. Many don't want to spend that much on a hearing test if they aren't sure about any problems. To make things easy for them, there are many online-based hearing tests. They can quickly check their hearing via those tests, which they can take through several websites or apps. Even though these tests won't be up to clinical standards, and you'll need a clinical test again to start treatments. However, you can still take these tests for free to be sure about your problem.
Claims for Occupational Hearing Loss
US businesses are bound to compensate for the problems of occupational hearing loss to their workers. The government helps with occupational hearing loss claims. Apart from that, many organizations help people with occupational hearing loss problems to get on with their lives properly. Georgia Lions Lighthouse Foundation, Lions Club International, Miracle-Ear Foundation, National Hearing Aid Project, Starkey Hearing Foundation, etc. that can help with occupational hearing loss compensation.
There are many workplaces with risks of occupational hearing loss, so it is crucial to maintain preventive methods in those workplaces. And if a person falls victim to OHL, they can easily get on with their everyday life by using hearing aids. They will also be open to having compensation for their loss from their employers. But it is always best to go through preventive measures, and both the employers and workers must make sure of it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is occupational hearing loss irreversible?
Ans: Unfortunately, yes, as it is a sensorineural noise-induced hearing loss, and this type of hearing loss is permanent. You can’t cure it or reverse it, but you can use hearing aids so that you can listen better and get on with your normal life.
Q. How is industrial deafness treated?
Ans: I am afraid you can’t cure industrial deafness. If you get diagnosed with it, you can go through measures that will help you listen better and keep your hearing health safe from further deteriorating.
Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226, USA.
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