It’s always big (but not surprising) news when a celebrity like AC/DC singer Brian Johnson announces career-ending hearing loss problems. After all, night after night of screaming guitars and crashing drums make hearing loss seem inevitable, right? But what about other careers?
It turns out that rock stars are hardly alone in experiencing work-related hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise each year. In addition, the same agency reports that 24% of the hearing difficulty among U.S. workers is caused by occupational exposures.
Risks of Occupational Hearing Loss
Hearing loss isn’t just an inconvenience, nor should it be an embarrassment. Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is common in the workplace and can even be dangerous, especially in high-risk environments or on the road.
For instance, studies show that workers with hearing loss often have trouble localizing sounds or hearing warning signals, which leads to increased accidents. NIHL also puts a strain on workplace relationships, leading to mistakes and increases in miscommunication.
Hearing Loss Sneaks Up
Many people aren’t aware they’ve suffered occupational hearing loss because it develops over time. Keep in mind that noise doesn’t have to be terribly loud to cause NIHL. In fact, most occupational hearing loss happens at levels just loud enough to do damage to hearing, but not at levels causing noticeable discomfort.
The real damage occurs with sustained, moderately high noise that occurs over a long period. Workers who spend prolonged periods in traffic, for instance, are at risk for hearing loss. This includes truckers, taxi drivers, even just sales people who spend a good deal of time on the road.
High Risk Careers
Jobs that put workers most at risk for hearing loss include:
- Construction workers
- Manufacturing employees
- Farm workers
In addition to working with high decibel, heavy machinery for prolonged periods, these workers are also exposed to a great deal of environmental noise like hammering, drills, animal noise and the constant hum of manufacturing lines.
Teachers are also at high risk for NIHL. Slamming lockers, bells ringing, sporting and music events, children playing – all of these factors can increase a teacher’s risk of NIHL.
NIHL is the most Common Injury of Returning War Veterans
Hearing loss is one of many sacrifices our military personnel risk when they serve our country. According to studies, NIHL is the most common injury of returning war veterans. In fact, data collected by the VA shows as many as 52 percent of combat soldiers have moderately severe hearing loss or worse, mostly because of the loud sounds associated with combat.
Police officers and first responders are often on the receiving end of both extremely high decibel noises that can damage hearing in a short amount of time, and prolonged levels of moderately high decibels that damage hearing over time. Crowds and large events, sirens, gunfire, and the general mayhem of emergency situations all contribute to increased risk of NIHL for these workers.
Workers at high risk for hearing loss should take precautions to protect their hearing and get regular hearing screenings. If you believe you may suffer from significant hearing loss, schedule an appointment with a professional to get your hearing tested and to discuss treatment options.