The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released a study on hearing loss and impairment among noise-exposed workers in the United States from 2003 to 2012.
The research found a prevalence of 13% hearing loss (mild to complete) among 1.4 million audiograms studied, confirming and quantifying the prevalence of hearing loss among employees of nine major industry sectors.
Occupational hearing loss, primarily caused by high noise exposure, is the most common U.S. work-related illness. NIOSH estimates that 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to hazardous occupational noise.
An earlier study from NIOSH examined hearing difficulty and tinnitus as two potentially debilitating physical conditions that are prevalent in the United States, especially among workers occupationally-exposed to noise.
The study was published in January by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Tinnitus, often known as “ringing in the ears,” is the perception of sound in one or both ears or in the head when there is no other source of sound in the environment and often occurs together with hearing loss.
The study found that 7% of U.S. workers never exposed to noise on the job had hearing difficulty, 5% had tinnitus, and 2% had both conditions. However, among workers who had at some point in their working careers been exposed to occupational noise, the prevalence was 23%, 15% and 9%, respectively.
Consequences of Hearing Loss
Hearing difficulty, tinnitus and their co-occurrence are prevalent in the U.S., but especially among noise-exposed workers.
Workers with hearing loss often have trouble localizing sounds or hearing warning signals and have an increased risk of accidents.
Hearing loss impedes communication and often leads to isolation in social situations, impediments in career progression, reduced autonomy, poor self-image, fatigue, frustration, and depression.
Tinnitus can disrupt sleep and concentration, increasing fatigue, impacting alertness, degrading performance, and potentially increasing risks for accidents on and off the job.