By Ray Gruben
Industrial Hygiene Program Manager
Should you worry about hearing loss?
Hearing loss is the inability to hear some or all sounds in one or both ears. If the occupational environment causes hearing loss, it is often in the high pitches. Should you worry about this? Do you:
• find yourself turning up the TV volume until you irritate everyone else in the room,
• ask family members to repeat what they say all the time,
• always gripe that people are mumbling and not speaking clearly
• not understand conversations when there is background noise
• hear sounds or voices like they are muffled?
This level of loss can be an impediment in your life ability and represent a life style reduction that most would not want. It may not seem like something to worry about now but you will most likely be vexed by it later.
What can you do to prevent this hearing loss? First, think about where you might have exposures that can damage your hearing. Most people seem to think of work only. Occupational noise is definitely a source of noise that can damage your hearing. However, home and play often places you in high noise environments. If you find yourself where you have to raise your voice to be heard at 3 feet away, you are probably in an environment where hearing loss is possible. At work, we try to identify areas where noise levels at 85 decibels on an A weighting scale (dBA) or the equivalent for a workday. This means that if your noise level at work averages 85 dBA for the day, or 88 dBA for four hours, 91 dBA for 2 hours, 94 for 1 hour or 97 for ½ hour during the day, you are in danger of hearing loss. For example, working around a generator off and on for a day, where close exposures may exceed 95 dBA might be a problem. This could happen where you think you are just there a short time but you might have 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there and find that you have reached the 30 minutes exposure time for the day even though you didn’t think you had much exposure. Many days like this could result in you having a loss of hearing.
You know that the next thing I would recommend is hearing protection. Industrial Hygiene often tries to see what can be done to reduce noise levels or the time of noise exposure, but often, your use of hearing protection is the primary way you can prevent exposure to noise. Why would you want wear this protection which might be irritating, not so attractive, and trouble to take in and out? Well, here are four reasons:
• Noise-induced hearing loss is not treatable with medication
• Loud noise can cause ringing in your ears and increase stress and fatigue
• Impaired hearing loss can cause serious or fatal mistakes in combat and work. You lose important sound clues or situational awareness that creates more danger for you.
• One-time unprotected noise exposure to very loud sounds (such as weapons fire) can cause permanent hearing loss.