Common Hearing Hazards in the Workplace
Did you know that hearing loss due to occupational noise is one of the leading workplace injuries worldwide? Workplace noise hazards can lead to significant hearing loss, and in many cases is 100% preventable.
Common noise hazards and preventing hearing loss in the workplace
Repeated exposure to loud noises in the workplace can cause temporary hearing loss or a ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or can sometimes lead to permanent loss. Sometimes hearing loss can occur after a single exposure (such as a blast), but it is more common for hearing loss to happen over time. See how one of HearingLife's patrons has had success treating hearing loss that may have started in the workplace.
Protecting your hearing in the workplace is a pretty simple step to prevent long term hearing loss that can stay with you the rest of your life. To be successful, it’s important to take appropriate steps and utilize the proper personal protective equipment to ensure that workplace noise hazards don’t cause permanent damage to your hearing. Below is a list of common occupational noise risks that may impact your hearing over a long period of time.
Severe hearing loss can affect productivity, ability to communicate effectively, it can cause psychological and physical stress and can cause greater risk in the workplace. Here are some common workplace noise hazards to be aware of:
* The use of heavy machinery in any application – Most pieces of large equipment come with a moderate amount of occupational noise. From agricultural to construction applications, waste management, industrial manufacturing and many processing plants, the equipment used to manufacture and process materials is typically large and loud. Many employers will have their own set of protocols, but it’s important to ensure you have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and pay attention to manufacturers' protocols too.
* Pneumatic tools – Using high pressured air power tools comes with some hefty sound! These types of tools can cause hearing loss in the workplace over an extended period of time if the proper preventative measures aren’t enforced.
* Impact tools – Drop hammers, riveters, and drop forges are good examples of heavy impact tools that can cause serious workplace hearing loss over time.
* Any workplace that has consistent loud ambient noise – Amusement parks, bars, somewhere with vacuums running constantly or machines like hand driers or back pack blowers can be the cause for hearing loss due to occupational noise.
* Workshops or auto shops – Anytime there is the constant use of high power tools, or heavy equipment that requires a variety of energy sources to operate, occupational noise risks should be taken into consideration for employees.
* Construction work areas – Among other risks and hazards, construction zones and development areas use equipment that exceeds healthy sound levels almost daily. From hand held tools to heavy equipment, hard laborers at construction sites are exposed to occupational noise hazards almost daily.
* Concert and sporting venues – Many people enjoy the energy of a rock concert or a big sporting event, but have you considered the damage it could be causing your ears? This includes exposure that happened way back at Woodstock.
* Military bases and airports – Whether you live and work on the base, or you work at an airport, or live near a runway, you should wear hearing protection. Unfortunately, many veterans suffer from hearing loss.
Noise levels in the workplace should be monitored, and if it consistently exceed 85 decibels in an 8 hour work period, your workplace should be taking immediate action to protect workers from noise, while attempting to mitigate employee exposure to sound.¹ Typically, if amendments or alterations to equipment cannot be made, supplying workers with the proper personal protective equipment is enough to protect their hearing for the long term.
Being proactive in the workplace is the best way to ensure workplace noise hazards don’t leave lasting damage to worker’s hearing. If you’re concerned about occupational noise in your workplace, be sure you bring up your concerns with supervisors. You can also learn about how to apply for disability benefits with hearing loss.
How to tell if you have a hearing loss
The first step in caring for your hearing health is to keep an eye out for indications you might be developing a hearing loss. Because hearing changes slowly with age, it’s not always easy to spot the signs.
Signs of hearing loss
- You often ask people to repeat themselves
- Following along with conversations in a group is difficult
- Others sounds are muffled or people seem to mumble
- It’s hard to distinguish sounds in noisy places like shopping centres
- Friends and family often tell you that you turn the TV or radio up much too loud
- You sometimes miss doorbells or ringing phones
- There’s a constant buzzing or ringing sound in your ears
- Loud noises cause you more discomfort than before
Hearing loss risksOther health factors also put you at a higher risk of hearing loss:
- Do you take certain medications, such as antibiotics or chemotherapy medications?
- Do you have diabetes, heart, circulation or thyroid problems?
- Are you regularly exposed to loud sounds, like live music or construction work?
Excessive noise can damage the delicate parts of your ear and leading to permanent harm. Listening to music for an hour with headphones at 94 decibels can cause damage. A 100-decibel chainsaw motor takes just 15 minutes. It’s important to wear proper ear protection if possible.
Doing something about it
Unfortunately, we know that most people wait an average of seven years to act1. When you wait, you start adapting to a lower quality of life by modifying your behaviour. Maybe you’ve already started going out less, asking people to repeat themselves all the time, avoiding group situations or no longer taking part in activities you used to enjoy. There are other risks as well, such as missing important warning sounds like traffic or smoke alarms.
Getting your hearing checked is painless, easy and takes less than 15 minutes. Talking to a professional will help to ease your mind and help you find the right solution for you.
Most insurance will cover hearing tests
Last week, we talked about how too few of us take our hearing health seriously — most likely because too many of us take hearing well for granted. Until it’s too late, that is.
This, despite the large body of evidence linking untreated hearing loss to quality-of-life issues such as social isolation, an increased risk of falls, depression, hospitalizations and even dementia.
But being proactive about our hearing health doesn’t have to be hard — and is most definitely worth it. Protect your hearing when and if you can, and get hearing screenings on a regular basis, especially if you’re over 50. It can be as simple as that.
Today’s hearing fact from Consumer Reports says most insurance will cover hearing tests if you have a referral from your healthcare provider. (Check with yours before scheduling.) So if that was your excuse...oops.
If you want to stay on top of your hearing and would like to get it tested, we can help. Just call 1-888-908-1845 or click here and we’ll set up a hearing exam with an authorized hearing healthcare professional near. Or, start with our free online hearing test anytime you want.
Explaining Hearing Loss to Children and Grandchildren
Hearing loss impacts more than just the person suffering from it. Its effects are far-reaching and keenly-felt by both friends and families. It's important that you understand that, and do what you can to include your loved ones in your treatment and make them aware of your struggles. That includes explaining it to your children or grandchildren.
The most important thing to remember when teaching kids about hearing loss is that you need to communicate openly and honestly. For younger children, you can simply explain that your ears don't work as they used to when you were their age. Older children, however, may be more inquisitive and wish to learn more.
There's no need to shy away from these explanations - in fact, you shouldn't. This is a perfect learning opportunity, the perfect time to bring up the importance of protecting one's ears throughout one's life. Teach the importance of practicing good hearing health as a lifelong pursuit.
Describing Hearing Aids and Other Treatments
One excellent way to describe the purpose of your hearing aid is likening it to a pair of glasses for your ears. It's a tool designed to compensate for the fact that part of your hearing is not working the way it should. You might even consider conducting a mini show-and-tell, explaining how your hearing aid works and how the device helps you hear better.
It's important, however, to emphasize that your hearing aids are only meant for you, and not to be worn by anyone else. Everyone's ears are a bit different, and trying to wear someone else's hearing aid could, in the worst-case scenario, actually cause hearing damage. Go back to the eyeglasses analogy, and liken wearing your hearing aid to putting on someone else's glasses.
Remember That Patience is a Virtue
Explain that it's much easier for you to hear your kids and all the exciting things they have to share if they get your attention first. You might explain this by calling to mind how difficult it is for them to hear someone calling them when they're busy playing or having fun with friends. If you can't see them, you might not know they're nearby, and you won't be able to hear them.
Practice with Playing Games
You can help them practice by describing a simple trick that helps you hear better: lip reading. Teach them how to read lips, and make a game out of it. Ask them to cover their ears and then speak or mouth a word to them to see if they can guess what you said.
Use this to explain why seeing their lips move helps you better-understand everything they have to say. As your grandkids get older, they can even help you hear better. When you're on outings together, they can get your attention or repeat things you may have missed.
Model Good Hearing Health
Keep the television volume low and the car radio at a normal volume, even if they ask you to turn it up and sing their favorite song. Explain the importance of taking care of their ears and their hearing health – and that the ability to hear is a gift. Resources like KidsHealth can provide a more detailed explanation if you're struggling to find the words or want to go deeper than what we've outlined here.
Having hearing loss doesn't mean missing out on family fun, especially with your grandchildren. By being open and honest with them about the condition and its challenges, you can not only help them better understand your struggles but also forge a closer relationship with them in the process. And if you think you need a hearing aid or a hearing test, find a local Connect Hearing center near you and schedule a complimentary hearing assessment right away.
Study Shows How Tests of Hearing Can Reveal HIV’s Effects on the Brain
Even with effective anti-retroviral therapy, patients infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) sustain central nervous system damage. Whether these problems can be mainly attributed to the disease, its treatments, or the body’s immune responses is still being debated, but detecting these changes early and reliably is difficult.
Findings from a new study published in Clinical Neurophysiology, involving a collaborative effort between Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, are shedding further light on how the brain’s auditory system may provide a window into how the brain is affected by HIV. An article summarizing the research is published on the Geisel School of Medicine’s website.
“We’ve been performing a variety of hearing tests on an established cohort of HIV-positive patients in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,” says Jay Buckey, Jr., MD, a professor of medicine at Geisel who co-led the study. “Initially, we thought we’d find that HIV affects the ear, but what seems to be affected is the brain’s ability to process sound.”
To test this hypothesis, the researchers used what’s called a speech-evoked frequency-following response (FFR). In this test, brain waves are recorded from scalp electrodes (as in an electroencephalogram) while sounds common to everyday speech, like “ba,” “da,” or “ga,” are played into the ear. This offers an objective, non-invasive way to record brain waves and assess the brain’s auditory functions.
“There are many acoustic ingredients in speech, such as pitch, timing, harmonics, and phrase,” says Nina Kraus, PhD, Hugh Knowles Professor of Communication Sciences and Neurobiology at Northwestern, who co-led the study with Buckey. “The FFR enables us to play speech sounds into the ear of study participants and figure out how good a job the brain is doing processing these different acoustic ingredients.”
When comparing the FFR results of 68 HIV-positive adults to 59 HIV-negative adults, the investigators found that the auditory-neurophysiological responses to certain speech cues were disrupted in HIV-positive adults, even though they performed normally on hearing tests—confirming that these hearing difficulties are grounded in the central nervous system.
“When the brain processes sound, it’s not like a volume knob where all of the acoustic ingredients are either processed well or poorly,” Kraus explains. “With the FFR, we’re able to see which aspects of auditory processing are affected or diminished and ask, ‘Is there a specific neural signature that aligns itself with HIV?’”
That’s why the researchers envision the FFR as a viable tool for further understanding not only the mechanisms of brain dysfunction associated with HIV, but also other disorders that affect the brain such as concussion, Alzheimer’s disease, and the Zika virus infection.
“Typically, if you want to assess cognitive function, you’re going to do things like have people do math problems, remember a list of words, work on some sort of puzzle or task, or do a drawing,” says Buckey. “It requires people who are trained in doing this kind of testing, and the tests may be fairly specific to the language people speak and the culture they come from.
“What’s significant about our results is that the test doesn’t require any actions on the patient’s part; it’s recorded passively—subjects can even sleep or watch a movie,” he says. “We think the FFR holds a lot of promise as a way to assess the brain easily and objectively.”
HearingFactFriday: Too few people are proactive about their hearing health
Plus, hearing is one of only five senses we have, and can play a vital role in our quality of life. So, for so few of us to actively stay on top of our hearing health is pretty surprising.
For instance, we can all name intangible good things that go with hearing, like listening to music, watching TV and movies, engaging with friends and family, or how hearing enhances nature, everyday activities and events.
We know — especially now, during this pandemic — how important hearing is to staying socially connected, informed, and feeling safe.
And we also know that untreated hearing loss is linked to social isolation, an increased risk of falls, depression, hospitalizations and even dementia.
All these reasons are why today’s hearing fact is so startling, and why experts recommend adults be screened for hearing every decade through age 50, and at three-year intervals after that.