Hearing is one of the five senses that we rely on to be safe at work and in life in general. What many don’t realize is that the noises they are exposed to every day at work could be causing serious damage to their inner ear.
Not all hearing loss or hearing conditions are permanent but if they go untreated, a worker could be facing the possibility that they will lose their hearing for good. Permanent hearing loss may mean that the career path a worker has trained for their entire lives is no longer possible. It can also mean a lifetime of specialized treatment that is costly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 30 million workers experience hazardous noise conditions at work and nine million more may lose their hearing thanks to exposure to metals or solvents. In fact, hearing loss is widely reported by workers as an occupational disease.
How Can My Job Impact My Hearing?
Sound is measured in decibels (dB) and the higher the dB, the louder the sound. Studies have shown that sounds which go above 80 dB have the potential to permanently damage the inner ear if the exposure goes on for some time.
To put this in perspective, take these facts into consideration:
- 90 dB can be emitted from a truck or motorcycle that is 5 yards away.
- 120 dB can be emitted from a jackhammer that is 3 feet away.
- 130 dB is the strength of the sound emitted from an airplane when it is 100 feet away.
These are the typical distances that the average passerby might hear these noises from. However, thousands of workers are exposed at much smaller distances and the damage to their ears can be substantial.
Jobs That Place Workers At Risk
Jobs that commonly result in hearing loss include:
- Airline Ground Maintenance
- Automotive / Motorcycle Manufacturing, Testing, and Racing
- Nightclub Bartending, Bouncing, or Waitressing
How Workers Can Protect Themselves
As workers’ compensation lawyers, we’ve seen many New York workers who have slowly lost their hearing over time. For many, a lifetime of hard work has left them with a hearing disability, unable to even hear other people speak. If you work on any noisy worksite, you can help to reduce the impact your workplace has on your hearing by:
- Always wearing proper hearing protection when you are on the job
- Using ear plugs and other protective devices properly
- Scheduling regular hearing tests with your doctor
- Taking regular breaks from noisy environments, even when you are using ear plugs
- Working further away from loud equipment, such as jackhammers, when possible
Despite taking these steps, many New York workers will still suffer from noise-induced hearing loss over time. Anyone who suspects a loss should make an appointment with an audiologist.
What Can I Expect When I Visit An Audiologist?
If you are experiencing trouble with your hearing, you may first visit your family medical provider who can refer you to a specialist known as an audiologist.
Audiologists specialize in hearing problems and disorders. In addition to treating problems with hearing, the audiologist may treat you for issues with your balance that can stem from problems in the inner ear.
If you have been referred to an audiologist, there are a few things you may wonder about the first visit and what to expect. Here are some things you should know:
Your audiologist will inquire about your past medical issues and your current hearing capabilities. It can be helpful to write down this information before attending your appointment so you are fully prepared to answer questions. You may need to ask family members for health histories you are not clear on to provide an accurate profile.
The audiologist will use an instrument called an otoscope to check inside the ear canals and the ear drum. A hearing test will then be administered to judge how well you can hear sounds at different levels.
Once the audiologist has gained insight into your hearing situation, they will recommend further treatment based on testing results. Some patients may need to use a hearing aid to deal with their condition. Others may require further medical intervention to treat problems causing hearing loss which may necessitate a referral to an ENT.
Hearing loss can be devastating to your work life. If you cannot hear properly, you may not be able to perform your usual job tasks and pose a safety risk to yourself and others. If you are experiencing hearing loss or ringing/buzzing in your ears see your doctor immediately.
If your doctor suspects that prolonged exposure to workplace noise is the cause of your hearing loss, you should know that it may be possible to obtain workers’ compensation to cover your medical costs. If the loss is severe enough that you are unable to return to work, you may qualify for social security disability benefits.
A workers’ compensation and social security disability lawyer can help you determine which benefits you are eligible for and assist you with the application process. Be sure to contact a lawyer as soon as possible, as there are strict deadlines for applications.