The highest risk of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is related to exposures in the workplace, which affects about 7% of the population. Below we review how loud sounds cause damage, which professions are most likely to experience this type of hearing loss and how you can protect yourself if you work in a noisy field.
How Loud Sounds Cause Damage
Within the inner ear is a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea. The cochlea is lined with tiny hair cells called stereocilia, which convert sound impulses into electrical energy that travels via the auditory nerve to the brain to be interpreted.
When dangerously loud sounds enter the ears, it can damage or destroy the stereocilia, which cannot be reversed. The result is permanent sensorineural hearing loss. The threshold that is considered safe is 85 dB – about the volume of highway traffic. Eight hours or more of exposure of noise at this level at a time can cause noise-induced hearing loss.
What Professions Are Most at Risk
A study entitled “Occupational noise exposure: A review of its effects, epidemiology, and impact with recommendations for reducing its burden” was published in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America in 2019. This study examined which professions are most at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, and found that:
- “61% percent of Mining sector workers are exposed to occupational noise, the highest of any industry, and 23% report having hearing difficulty.”
- “The Construction sector has the second-highest prevalence of noise exposure, at 51%, and 14% of all workers in this sector report hearing difficulty.”
- “47% percent of Manufacturing sector workers are exposed to occupational noise, ranking third highest, and 18% report having hearing difficulty.”
Other types of workers exposed to unsafe noise levels include:
- Airline workers
- Railway workers
- Military personnel
How You Can Protect Your Hearing
There are a number of options for protecting your hearing:
- Disposable foam earplugs that can be purchased at.
- Protective earmuffs that can be purchased online or at a hardware store such as Tri-County Ace.
- Custom earplugs that can be made from impressions of your ears and ordered by an audiologist at Elevate Audiology.
Your employer should provide hearing protection for you or reimburse you for the cost if you buy it yourself. Talk to your HR director to learn more. For more information or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, call Elevate Audiology today.