Recently, I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in the higher frequencies. I had sought out the exam due to a family history, spending a large part of my career in high noise occupations, and a few noisy hobbies. The most obvious symptom was constantly asking people to repeat themselves. The end result was hearing aids and now I hear conversations better, music sounds great again, and I even heard the warning chirp indicating the brakes on the car needed attention. But nothing compares to our natural ability to hear the world around us. Protecting that ability is critical and not really very difficult.
According to WebMD, “Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the United States. Hearing loss has a major impact on one’s quality of life, and relationships. About 48 million Americans suffer from some level of hearing loss.”
Hearing loss is not just an issue for older people. According to the Better Hearing Institute, the majority of people (65%) with hearing loss are younger than 65 years of age. Unfortunately, only about 13% of physicians screen for hearing loss during a typical physical exam. What are the effects of not dealing with hearing loss? According to studies outlined by the Better Hearing Institute the effects of untreated hearing loss can be:
- Irritability, negativism and anger.
- Fatigue, tension, stress and depression.
- Avoidance or withdrawal from social situations.
- Social rejection and loneliness.
- Reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety.
- Impaired memory and ability to learn new tasks.
- Reduced job performance and earning power.
- Diminished psychological and overall health.
So what is one to do? First take care of your ears and hearing. Hearing loss is often permanent, particularly the type of hearing loss caused by exposure to high noise levels. That means that hearing aids won’t be of much help. Lawn mowers, loud machinery, power tools, firearms, snowmobiles, music concerts, motorcycles, and sporting events all present a real insult to your hearing. If you can, move away from the load sounds since distance dramatically reduces the sound pressure. Use barriers or other muffling devices to further reduce noise. Lastly, always wear your properly fitted hearing protection around occupational and non-occupational noise.
If testing determines a family member, you, or your employee has hearing loss, follow up with an Audiologist or a physician specializing in Ear Nose and Throat (ENT). This is essential and even required under the federal occupational standard. Refer to OSHA’s Hearing Conservation Publication 3074 for guidance and regulations regarding hearing protection in the workplace. In addition, check out the Better Hearing Institute website for further information.
Studies have shown a significant relationship between hearing loss and quality of life. The job can be stressful and even hazardous, but occupational hearing loss does not have to be inevitable. We can’t fight all the effects of getting older, but if we take the right steps we can take care of what hearing we have. Wear your hearing protection when required and ensure everyone else around you is doing the same.
Hearing loss can mean missing a significant part of our awareness of the world around us. Don’t miss out on it just because you didn’t protect your hearing at work. Missing the subtleties of life can mean missing significant messages. After all, Errol Flynn once said, “It isn’t what they say about you, it’s what they whisper.”