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It’s typical to think of hearing loss as an inescapable problem connected with aging, or, more recently, as a consequence of the younger generation’s regular use of iPods. But the numbers illustrate that the bigger problem may be direct exposure to loud noise at work.

In the US, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially hazardous noise, and a projected 242 million dollars is expended every year on worker’s compensation claims for hearing loss, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

What’s more is that higher rates of hearing loss are found in increasingly noisier occupations, suggesting that being exposed to sounds above a certain level progressively heightens your risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss later in your life.

How loud is too loud?

A study conducted by Audicus found that, of those who were not exposed to work-related noise levels above 90 decibels, only 9 percent suffered from noise-induced hearing loss at age 50. In contrast, construction workers, who are routinely exposed to sound levels as high as 120 decibels, struggled with noise-induced hearing loss at the age of 50 at a rate of 60 percent!

It seems that 85-90 decibels is the limit for safe sound levels, but that’s not the full story: the decibel scale is logarithmic, not linear. That signifies that as you increase the decibel level by 3 decibels, the sound level roughly doubles. So 160 decibels is not twice as loud as 80—it’s about 26 times louder!

Here’s how it breaks down: a decibel level of 0 is scarcely noticeable, regular conversation is about 60 decibels, the threshold for safety is 85-90 decibels, and the death of hearing cells occurs at 180 decibels. It’s the region between 85 and 180 that leads to noise-induced hearing loss, and as would be anticipated, the jobs with progressively louder decibel levels have increasingly higher rates of hearing loss.

Hearing loss by occupation

As the following table indicates, as the decibel levels associated with each profession increase, hearing loss rates increase as well:

Occupation Decibel level Incidence rates of hearing loss at age 50
No noise exposure Less than 90 decibels 9{cdb78ae2d183aa312f4188be7f6bc8f99bbda397365b47ecb6e1dcf848d64ae2}
Manufacturing 105 decibels 30{cdb78ae2d183aa312f4188be7f6bc8f99bbda397365b47ecb6e1dcf848d64ae2}
Farming 105 decibels 36{cdb78ae2d183aa312f4188be7f6bc8f99bbda397365b47ecb6e1dcf848d64ae2}
Construction 120 decibels 60{cdb78ae2d183aa312f4188be7f6bc8f99bbda397365b47ecb6e1dcf848d64ae2}

Any profession with decibel levels above 90 places its personnel at risk for hearing loss, and this includes rock musicians (110 dB), nightclub staff (110 dB), Formula One drivers (135 dB), airport ground staff (140 dB), and shooting range marshalls (140 dB). In every instance, as the decibel level rises, the risk of noise-induced hearing loss skyrockets.

Protecting your hearing

A recent US study on the prevalence of hearing loss in farming revealed that 92 percent of the US farmers surveyed were subjected to damaging noise levels, but that only 44 percent claimed to use hearing protection devices on a regular basis. Factory workers, on the other hand, tend to adhere to stricter hearing protection regulations, which may explain why the incidence rate of hearing loss is slightly lower in manufacturing than it is in farming, despite being exposed to near equivalent decibel volumes.

All of the data point to one thing: the importance of protecting your hearing. If you work in a high-risk job, you need to take the right protective steps. If avoiding the noise is not an option, you need to find ways to reduce the noise levels (best accomplished with custom earplugs), in addition to assuring that you take consistent rest breaks for your ears. Reducing both the sound volume and exposure time will reduce your chances of acquiring noise-induced hearing loss.

If you would like to discuss a hearing protection plan for your particular circumstances or job, give us a call. As hearing specialists, we can provide custom-made solutions to best safeguard your hearing at work. We also offer custom earplugs that, in addition to defending your hearing, are comfortable to wear and can preserve the natural quality of sound (as opposed to the muffled sound you hear with foam earplugs).

Why wait? You don't have to live with hearing loss. Call Us Today