Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear from noise or vibrations due to certain types of jobs.
Over time, repeated exposure to loud noise and music can cause hearing loss. Occupational hearing loss is caused by long term exposure to loud vibration or sound.
Sounds above 80 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibration intense enough to damage the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time.
A general rule of thumb is that if you need to shout to be heard, the sound is in the range that can damage hearing.
Some jobs carry a high risk for hearing loss, such as:
In the U.S., the maximum job noise exposure is regulated by law. Both the length of exposure and decibel level are considered. If the sound is at or greater than the maximum levels recommended, protective measures are required.
The main symptom is partial or complete hearing loss. The hearing loss will likely get worse over time with continued exposure.
Sometimes hearing loss is accompanied by noise in the ear (tinnitus).
A physical examination will not usually show any specific changes. Tests that may be performed include:
The hearing loss is usually permanent. The goal of treatment is to prevent further hearing loss, improve communication with any remaining hearing, and develop coping skills (such as lip reading).
Using a hearing aid may help you understand. Other devices to help with hearing loss can also be used.
A key part of treatment is protecting your ears from any further damage and hearing loss.
Protect your ears when you are exposed to loud noises. Wear protective ear plugs or earmuffs to protect against damage from loud equipment.
Be aware of risks connected with recreation such as shooting a gun, driving snowmobiles, or other similar activities.
Learn how to protect your ears when listening to music at home or at concerts.
Hearing loss is often permanent. The loss may get worse if you don't take measures to prevent further damage.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Hearing loss - occupational; Noise induced hearing loss
Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 151.
Updated by: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., and Seth Schwartz, MD, MPH, Otolaryngologist, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington.
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