Occupational Hearing Hazards

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Susan L Fenrich, BC-HIS*

Susan L Fenrich, BC-HIS*
Latest posts by Susan L Fenrich, BC-HIS* (see all)

The world we live in is a noisy one! From the moment we wake to an alarm clock, to our morning commute and our time at work, we are faced with all sorts of sounds. While sound is an important sense, allowing us to hear our family, friends, co-workers, as well as releasing dopamine when we hear sounds that cause us pleasure, there is definitely such a thing as too much sound! 

When sound becomes too loud it is classified as noise and can actually damage our hearing permanently. This is particularly an issue in a professional setting, where many of us spend a large part of our day, many days of the week. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 22 million people are exposed to workplace noise that can potentially damage their hearing. It is important to be aware of the noise level in your workplace and to make sure that you and your employer are doing everything possible to avoid damaging your hearing due to excess noise.

How Hearing Works

While we hear with our ears, it is actually our brain which interprets these sounds and determines the source, location, speed and proximity. The outer ear ( the part which we all can see) absorbs sound from the environment which journeys into the ear canal where it lands on the eardrum. 

The eardrum vibrates, which sends the signal towards your inner ear where it stimulates tiny hairs called cilia.  Your ears transmit sound to your brain using the cilia, which transform audio information into electrical pulses and send it to your brain. 

However, exposure to excess sound can damage these fragile parts of the inner ear, inhibiting the travel of sound to your brain, ultimately causing permanent hearing loss. 

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Sounds are measured in decibels and any sound with decibel level over 85db has the potential to damage your ears. As the decibel level increases the time it takes for damage to occur lessens. For instance, if you go to work in an environment in which the decibel level is about 85db every workday for eight hours or more, significant damage can occur in approximately a decade. However, if you went to work in a factory or other loud environment where the decibel level averages 100, this could cause damage in a much shorter time. 

Occupational Hearing Loss

The CDC reports that 12% of the workforce in the U.S. has hearing difficulty  and 24% of these cases are caused by exposure to loud noise in the workplace. There are protections in the workplace for employees to ensure that no one is exposed to irreversible hearing damage. 

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) states that “The employer shall provide hearing protectors at no cost to the workers.”  In addition to noise induced hearing loss it is also important to protect yourself from chemicals in a work setting that could damage your hearing. These chemicals are classified as ototoxic, meaning they can damage your hearing and include: some solvents, metals and carbon monoxide.

Protecting Your Ears

When you know the risk to your ears and strategies to protect your hearing you can ensure that your hearing can remain clear for years to come, despite years of being employed in noisy environments. 

NIOSH recommends that “workers shall be required to wear hearing protectors when engaged in work that exposes them to noise that equals or exceeds 85 dBA as an 8-hour TWA…Hearing protectors shall attenuate noise sufficiently to keep the worker’s “real-world” exposure below 85 dBA as an 8-hour TWA. 

Workers exposed to any single impulse noise level that exceed 140 dBA those whose 8-hour TWA exposures exceed 100 dBA should wear double hearing protection (i.e., they should wear earplugs and earmuffs simultaneously).” Be aware of the noise level in your workplace. 

You can measure the decibel level in a room using apps available on most smartphones. If the sound is above 85 db, be sure to wear your earplugs or earmuffs. 

Seek Treatment

While hearing loss is irreversible it is very treatable using hearing aids. Hearing aids can amplify the sounds in your life so you can engage in conversations at home and at work. This allows you to enjoy your life on and off the clock. If you suspect that you may have hearing loss, it is a good idea to treat it with hearing aids as soon as possible. Make an appointment today to have your hearing ability accessed and get on the road towards clearer hearing!