Hearing Loss and Work: The 6 Most At-Risk Occupations
Most of us assume that we can pinpoint the causes of our hearing loss — too many loud
concerts in our youth, living near a busy airport, illness, injury, age, overdoing it on ototoxic
medications, etc. In reality, hearing loss is cumulative, and we are often exposed to dangerous
noise levels without realizing it. Over 30 million workers across the U.S. and Canada sustain
those exposures on the job. Check out the list below to find out if you’re at risk and what steps
you can take to protect your hearing from now on!
You may correctly assume that career musicians are at risk for hearing loss, but have you
thought about those who work at the venues where musicians perform? Wait staff (including
bartenders, servers, hostesses, and kitchen workers) and bouncers in clubs and bars are
frequently exposed to an average of 100 decibels (dB) for several hours. Wearing hearing
protection is discouraged because it would greatly hinder job performance. Compounding the
high level of background noise is the fact that the patrons they’re serving often have to shout at
close range to be heard. This synergistic combination of loud noises can add up to sizeable
hearing loss in later life.
This occupation is unique in that farms tend to be family affairs, passed down through
generations, so most workers in the agricultural industry have been exposed to dangerous
noise levels since childhood. There is growing awareness about the necessity for hearing
protection, but by the time those measures are taken, much of the damage has already been
done. Farm machinery often exceeds 110 dB, which is unsafe for any duration of time.
Similar to agriculture, these occupations involve the use of heavy machinery. No method of
quieting construction tools has been invented yet, so wearing hearing protection while
operating them or working nearby is a must. Mining excavations can be particularly dangerous
because harmful noise levels are occurring in a tight space. The closer you are to the sound, the
more quickly it can permanently damage your hearing.
When you fly, the popping you experience in your ears during takeoff is an imbalance between
the pressure inside the inner ear and the ambient pressure of your environment. In some cases,
the tympanic membrane can rupture. Unfortunately for flight crews, repeat exposure to rapid
altitude change increases the risk. Those on the ground aren’t safe either. While airplane cabins
are insulated to protect passengers from engine noise, airport ground crews guiding the plane
off or onto the runway are routinely exposed to up to 140 dB!
For anyone who has ever served in the armed forces, this will come as no surprise. Hearing loss
is the most common injury sustained during military service, and tinnitus is the No. 1 disability
reported in veterans. There are over 2 million veterans in North America currently living with
some degree of hearing loss or tinnitus. Many factors contribute: explosions, gunfire, jet
engines, helicopters, and other combat vehicles. There is also a growing body of evidence
linking blast exposure with central auditory processing disorder (CAPD).
Once again, heavy machinery makes an appearance on our list. Common sources of noise in
manufacturing jobs include saws, bowl choppers, pneumatic drilling, bottling or packing
operations, and blast chilling. Additionally, exposure to ototoxic chemicals may occur alongside
harmful noise levels. Manufacturing accounts for the most cases of permanent hearing loss
sustained on the job. Hearing protection is often worn, as per workplace requirements, but
because workers need to verbally communicate with each other, it is often removed in certain
situations. Removing your hearing protection for even a few minutes a day can add up to
significant hearing loss in the long term.
If you currently work or have worked in any of these fields, contact us today for a hearing
screening, custom ear-protection fitting, or upgrade of your current hearing technology.