Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Is the Most Common Occupational Disease
Noise-induced hearing damage continues to be the most common occupational disease among working-age people. It is up to three times more common than the second most common occupational disease, irritant contact dermatitis.
Occupational noise-induced hearing damage is caused most commonly by the manufacturing of metal products, specialized construction work, military duties, public safety professionals, the manufacturing of other machines and equipment, and building construction.
Workplaces are aware of the fact that hearing protection designed for professional use can prevent noise-induced hearing impairments and damage...
So why does noise-induced hearing damage continue to be the most common occupational disease?
Regional Supervisor Tapani Ollila from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health says that neglecting the use of hearing protection is too easy. People forget to use or misuse the equipment. Workers may instinctively take off their hearing protection when they stop to talk to someone or answer the phone.
“Hoods and headgear are occasionally left between the earmuffs and the wearer’s skin. Sometimes, other protective equipment worn on the face can prevent the earmuffs from forming a proper seal, causing leaks.”
There is also plenty of room for improvement in people’s attitudes. Sentences like “I’ll just quickly pop in there” or “it’s not that loud” are heard too often at workplaces. Noise-induced damage is not taken seriously enough, and people do not understand how sensitive the hearing organs are.
Noise-Induced Hearing Damage Is Permanent
Noise-induced hearing damage usually occurs over a long period of time, but it can also result from short-term noise exposure. The risk of hearing damage can occur in just a few minutes when the decibel level exceeds 115.
Loud noise is extremely stressful to the ear. The human ear is a complex and magnificent structure in which thousands of sensory hair cells take care of receiving sound waves. Every hair cell specializes in receiving low or high-pitched sounds. Long-term exposure to noise causes the hair cells to flatten, whereby they are no longer able to do their job. Moreover, no new hair cells are generated to replace damaged ones.
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One of the ear’s reactions to noise stress is tinnitus, which can be felt as a ringing of the ears even if the environment is quiet. Tinnitus is often the first warning sign of excessively loud noise.
According to ear specialist Elina Rytsölä, 90% of people with tinnitus symptoms also have reduced hearing. With normal hearing, a person can hear sounds across the frequency spectrum at a volume of at least 20 dB and is able to understand speech from a distance of four metres.
“Noise-induced hearing loss does not reduce your hearing uniformly. Instead, the first elements of speech to disappear are consonants, especially S, V and H, as they are processed by the high-frequency area of the cochlear. You do not always notice hearing loss immediately, as you can still hear vowels normally in the early stages.”
“Hearing loss causes words to sound unclear, especially in a noisy environment or when the speech is coming indirectly from the side or behind your back, for example.”
When your ears are exposed to excessively loud sounds, they may feel tender. Usually, your ears will ‘calm down’ after a while, but sometimes they may become sensitive to normal everyday sounds in addition to noise. This is called hyperacusis.
Rytsölä points out that noise-induced hearing damage cannot be cured. The only way to protect your hearing organs from permanent damage is to wear hearing protection in excessively noisy environments.
Preventing Hearing Damage
The most effective way to prevent occupational noise-induced hearing loss is using hearing protectors while working. Though there are legislation's and regulations for noise reduction in occupational surroundings, they’re sometimes not enough or noise management is merely impossible. Hearing protectors are for individual protection, and they come with various functions depending on the environment.
Passive hearing protectors are the most practical and cost-efficient alternative when your work does not require communicating with each other and the attenuation of the noises in your surroundings does not generate a hazard risk.
Communication hearing protectors protect hearing while allowing the user to communicate with teammates and stay aware of the surroundings. Electronic hearing protectors can be connected to a phone or radiophone in order to stay connected even high-noise environments.
Regardless of the occupation hearing protectors are essential for anyone working in high-noise environments.
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