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. And 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.
Monitor noise levels anywhere using SoundCheck Live app
Indeed, awareness is everything when it comes to safer hearing. Fortunately, you can monitor noise levels wherever you are from your smartphone, using an app like SoundCheck Live. Free and easy-to-use, SoundCheck Live has a built-in sound level meter that tracks sound around you in real-time and displays the current, average, and maximum noise levels in decibels. It can also tell you directly if sound levels are OK, loud, or require hearing protection (SoundGear offers an array of hearing protection product options if you’re looking).
Think you may have NIHL? Hearing care professionals can help
Remember, 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 to a hearing care professional. And this month, National Protect Your Hearing Month, is a great time to do it. They can test your hearing, determine whether you even have hearing loss, and walk you through your options. To find a hearing care professional near you, simply type your zip code in here and you’ll generate a list of local providers who you can reach out to.
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