Research Shows Teachers at Increased Risk of Hearing Loss

Bells ringing, excited chatter, slamming lockers and announcements over the PA system: these familiar school sounds present an often overlooked danger for teachers and educators. In fact, recent research suggests that teachers are at an increased risk for occupational noise induced hearing loss.

Historically, researchers have focused attention on other professions including manufacturing, construction and industrial technology to establish safe listening guidelines. However, compared to other professions, teachers report higher percentages of diagnosed hearing loss.

Hearing loss among teachers begins at a much younger age than other occupational noise induced hearing loss. According to a recent study by the Danish Centre of Educational Environment, teachers younger than 40 report a higher rate (26 percent) of difficulty hearing than that of other professionals (17 percent). The elevated percentage may suggest that occupational noise from lunchrooms, gymnasiums and hallways increase the likelihood that many teachers will experience noise-induced hearing loss during their career.

Sound level measurements have shown that sounds inside school gymnasiums can exceed 90dB. Choir, music, band and industrial arts classrooms have also been found to exceed safe listening levels. The auditory risk to students is often minimal given the shorter durations spent in these environments, but teachers often have the most exposure. Music teachers, physical education teachers and coaches are especially vulnerable to loss because much of their time is spent in these noisy environments.

Noise-induced hearing loss can often be accompanied by tinnitus. Ringing in the ears can make concentrating on hearing and understanding students more challenging. Over half of the teachers that reported difficulty hearing admit to asking those around them to repeat, misunderstanding what is said, and feeling stressed and fatigued during extended periods of listening. Although the loss of hearing is often noted early, nearly 30 percent of study participants admit to leaving their hearing loss untreated. Sadly, delaying or avoiding treatment can adversely affect performance in the classroom and create unnecessary occupational strain on educators.

The study found that the common objections to correcting hearing loss among educators are similar to those faced by the general public. Educators often worry that alerting employers will creative negative workplace stigmas. Cost can also be a deterrent. Fewer than 19 percent of study participants reported health coverage that included hearing healthcare. Comparatively, dental and vision coverage were offered at rates nearly three times that.

The good news is that these findings have prompted more retired teachers associations to include hearing healthcare in insurance plans or offer supplemental coverage to cover the cost of hearing aids.  Coverage and benefits vary greatly by state; some policies offer hearing healthcare coverage through American Hearing Benefits or other supplemental coverage programs.

If you have concerns about your hearing or the hearing of a loved one, contact your local hearing healthcare professional for a hearing evaluation. Your hearing professional can explore your insurance benefits or offer affordable financing options.

By Beth McCormick, Au.D.