Workers in industries from construction to music may be exposed to significant noise levels on the job. As a result of this exposure, they may suffer occupational hearing loss. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occupational exposures cause approximately 24% of hearing difficulties experienced by U.S. workers.
Occupational hearing loss occurs as a result of exposure to loud noises. Noise becomes hazardous to the ears at 85 decibels or higher, or if workers must raise their voices to talk to someone an arm’s length away. When workplace noise reaches dangerous levels, it may result in hearing loss, tinnitus or other hearing issues.
Exposure to ototoxic chemicals may also cause occupational hearing loss. Certain chemicals and pharmaceuticals, including carbon monoxide, lead and mercury compounds, may make the ear more susceptible to the damaging effects of noise, cause hearing loss, or both.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, work-related hearing loss often cannot be cured. Therefore, treatment is aimed at preventing further hearing loss, developing coping skills and improving communication given workers’ remaining hearing. This may include learning how to lip read or using hearing aids or other devices to aid in understanding speech. In cases of severe hearing loss, workers may benefit from getting a cochlear implant.
Once they have suffered occupational hearing loss, it is vital for workers to protect their ears from further damage on the job, when participating in certain recreational activities, or when listening to music at home or at a concert. If they will be exposed to loud noises, workers who have suffered hearing difficulties due to their jobs should use earmuffs or earplugs in order to help protect their ears from further damage.