Occupational Hearing Loss

Exposure to loud noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss. According to Statistics Canada, more than one million adults across the country have reported a hearing-related disability. It is estimated that hearing loss costs the Canadian economy more than $10.6 billion each year. Hearing loss is emerging as a serious health concern; it is advised to be aware of harmful noise environments and take the necessary precautions to protect your hearing. Loss of hearing leads to social isolation, miscommunication, and depression. If you work in a job that exposes you to repetitive loud noises, find ways to curb your exposure and/or protect your ears. Once your hearing is damaged, it cannot be restored so take precautions up front.


Noise is measured in decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) a noise between 70 to 90 dB can cause hearing loss over prolonged exposure, while a single loud noise, such as a 150-dB gunshot, can cause permanent hearing damage. Protective gear has improved tremendously in recent years and workers who are exposed to loud noises have the resources available to them to prevent hearing loss. For example, construction workers using heavy machinery should wear protective ear muffs to seal in acoustics and also still be able to hear instructions.


A construction worker using a jackhammer is exposed regularly to 85-100 dB of noise. Over time, this exposure will cause significant hearing loss, often requiring the eventual use of a hearing aid. Carpenters using nail guns, ambulance drivers, garbage men, and, of course, rock musicians are all regularly exposed to potentially harmful levels of noise. This exposure, referred to as occupational hearing loss, is very common and often goes unnoticed until it is a significant problem.


While the above examples of jobs with potential hearing loss are not surprising, there are other jobs that can pose a substantial risk for hearing loss. For example, teachers in some classrooms are often exposed to 85-90 dB over many hours. In these cases, that continued exposure will lead to hearing loss. Plumbers also report high percentage of some hearing loss; being exposed to sounds in confined spaces is a recipe for hearing loss. Farmers are another population at risk; the rise in the use of automated machinery over long periods of time puts these workers at risk. Additionally, many farmers start work at a young age and likely do not use any ear protection until they are older and some damage has already occurred.


Hearing loss is very often permanent. If you experience any noise-induced hearing loss, seek treatment. The goals of treatment are to prevent further hearing loss, improve communication with any remaining hearing; and develop communication coping skills. Hearing aids may help as well. Protecting your ears from any further damage and hearing loss is a key part of treatment. Your hearing is an invaluable component of your ability to communicate with others and to live a fruitful life. Take the steps to protect your hearing before you need to seek treatment.

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