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High noise levels at work prove harmful to hearing

When you think about noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), it’s natural to immediately associate the condition with exposure to loud events or activities like concerts, fireworks, and hunting. However, today’s fact is an important reminder of how prominent the risk of NIHL can be in our daily lives—and that includes where you work.

1 in 4 workers exposed to occupational noise have hearing difficulty: Let’s explore the research behind this fact and specifically how noise exposure at work can affect your hearing.

Study shows workplace noise can significantly impact hearing

Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed data from hearing environments of U.S. workers who were exposed to high levels of occupational noise, and those who were not. The results: 23 percent of workers exposed to occupational noise had hearing difficulty, whereas 7 percent of workers had hearing difficulty despite not being exposed to occupational noise.

Of the same workers who were exposed to occupational noise, 15 percent had tinnitus and 9 percent had experienced both tinnitus and hearing difficulty. Of the workers not exposed to occupational noise, 5 percent had tinnitus and 2 percent had both tinnitus and hearing difficulty.

In (unsurprising) conclusion: The higher the noise levels, the greater the impact on hearing.

Occupational hearing loss is not only one of the most prevalent job-related illnesses but is also permanent. (While there is no surgical or medicinal treatment, hearing aids can help.) And when you consider that an estimated 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise at the workplace every year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, being aware of noise levels where we work is more important than ever.

How to know if your workplace has harmful noise levels

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), your workplace may be having a noise problem if:

  • You hear humming or ringing in your ears after work.
  • You must shout to be heard by a co-worker who is only an arm’s length away.
  • You experience temporary hearing loss after work.

If you’re experiencing any of these conditions, it’s likely your working environment has a decibel level of 85 or above. According to OSHA, if noise exposure at your workplace averages at or above 85 dB over 8 working hours (or an 8-hour time-weighted average), your employer must implement a hearing conservation program.

What is a hearing conservation program? Per OSHA:

“Hearing conservation programs strive to prevent initial occupational hearing loss, preserve and protect remaining hearing, and equip workers with the knowledge and hearing protection devices necessary to safeguard themselves.” Learn more about hearing conservation programs here.

If you think you are experiencing noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus, or any other difficulties with your hearing, the best thing you can do is reach out and schedule an appointment with our hearing care professionals.

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