Occupational hearing loss
Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear from noise or vibrations due to certain types of jobs.
Hearing loss - occupational; Noise-induced hearing loss
Over time, repeated exposure to loud noise and music can cause hearing loss.
Sounds above 80 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibrations intense enough to damage the inner ear. This is more likely to happen if the sound continues for a long time.
- 90 dB -- a large truck 5 yards (4.5 meters) away (motorcycles, snowmobiles, and similar engines range from 85 to 90 dB)
- 100 dB -- some rock concerts
- 120 dB -- a jackhammer about 3 feet (1 meter) away
- 130 dB -- a jet engine from 100 feet (30 meters) away
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:
- Airline ground maintenance
- Jobs involving loud music or machinery
- Military jobs that involve combat, aircraft noise, or other loud noise posts
In the United States, laws regulate the maximum job noise exposure that it is allowed. Both the length of exposure and decibel level are considered. If the sound is at or greater than the maximum levels recommended, you need to take steps to protect your hearing.
The main symptom is partial or complete hearing loss. The hearing loss will likely get worse over time with continued exposure.
Noise in the ear (tinnitus) may accompany hearing loss.
Exams and Tests
A physical exam will not show any specific changes in most cases. Tests that may be done include:
The hearing loss is very often permanent. The goals of treatment are to:
- Prevent further hearing loss
- Improve communication with any remaining hearing
- Develop coping skills (such as lip reading)
You may need to learn to live with hearing loss. There are techniques you can learn to improve communication and avoid stress. Many things in your surroundings can affect how well you hear and understand what others are saying.
Using a hearing aid may help you understand speech. You can also use other devices to help with hearing loss. If the hearing loss is severe enough, a cochlear implant may help.
Protecting your ears from any further damage and hearing loss is a key part of treatment. Protect your ears when you are exposed to loud noises. Wear 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 concerts.
Hearing loss is often permanent. The loss may get worse if you don't take measures to prevent further damage.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You have hearing loss
- The hearing loss gets worse
- You develop other new symptoms
The following steps can help prevent hearing loss.
- Protect your ears when you are exposed to loud noises. Wear protective ear plugs or earmuffs when you are around loud equipment.
- Be aware of the risks to hearing from recreational activities such as shooting a gun or driving snowmobiles.
- DO NOT listen to loud music for long periods of time, including using headphones.
Arts HA. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 150.
Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 152.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Noise-induced hearing loss. NIH Pub. No. 14-4233. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss. Updated February 7, 2017. Accessed June 14, 2018.
Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.