One of the most common work-related illnesses
Occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States. Every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Noise-related hearing loss has been listed as one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for more than 25 years. Thousands of workers every year suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2009 alone, BLS reported more than 21,000 hearing loss cases.
Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear from noise or vibrations due to certain types of jobs. Over time, repeated exposure to loud noise can cause hearing loss.
Some jobs carry a high risk for hearing loss, such as airline ground maintenance, construction and farming. However, any job that involves loud machinery can cause hearing loss. Short term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
Loud noise can also create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals. Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds, understand speech, and seriously impairs your ability to communicate. The effects of hearing loss can be profound, as hearing loss can interfere with your ability to enjoy socializing with friends, playing with your children or grandchildren, or participating in other social activities you enjoy.
How do you know if your workplace is too loud?
Sounds above 80 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibration intense enough to damage the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time. To illustrate the different decibel levels:
- 90 dB -- a large truck 5 yards away (motorcycles, snowmobiles, and similar engines range from 85 - 90 dB)
- 100 dB -- some rock concerts
- 120 dB -- a jackhammer about 3 feet away
- 130 dB -- a jet engine from 100 feet away
A general rule of thumb is that if you need to shout to be heard, the sound is in the range that can damage hearing.
Noise may be a problem in your workplace if:
- You hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work.
- You have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm's length away.
- You experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work.
If you have to work around loud noises at work, there are several precautions you should take. One of the most important precaution is to wear hearing protection. Hearing protection devices (HPDs), such as earmuffs and plugs can help control exposures to noise although these do not guarantee that you will have no hearing loss.
The main symptom is partial or complete hearing loss. The hearing loss will likely get worse over time with continued exposure. Sometimes hearing loss is accompanied by noise or ringing in the ear (tinnitus). If you have difficulty hearing people or if you keep your television sound very high, you may be suffering from hearing loss.
Hearing loss is often permanent. The loss may get worse if you don't take measures to prevent further damage. If you believe you have hearing loss contact a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment.
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