Hearing Loss Prevention Protects More than Hearing

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By: Elizabeth A. Masterson, Contributor

There is a general recognition of the importance of hearing and the need to protect it. However, hearing loss prevention protects so much more than hearing.

As hearing is degraded, many areas of life are affected. Communication deteriorates, and relationships can suffer. Hearing loss is associated with cognitive decline and cardiovascular outcomes, such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. It is also strongly associated with depression. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which often co-occurs with hearing loss, can disrupt sleep and concentration and is associated with both depression and anxiety. Workers with hearing loss are also at higher risk for injuries on and off the job.

The impact of hearing loss on finances is often overlooked. Workers who cannot effectively communicate are less likely to be promoted, and workers with hearing loss often suffer career decrements. Income is typically lower among these workers than among workers with normal hearing. Workers who develop profound hearing loss may have to leave the workforce entirely, especially in hearing-critical occupations.

Other costs include hearing aids and healthcare for the conditions discussed earlier, such as heart problems and mental health. To highlight the impact of hearing loss on quality of life and encourage prevention, the NORA Hearing Loss Prevention Cross-Sector Council produced the first in a series of short motivational videos, hosted by NHCA. They feature conversations with noise-exposed workers who have experienced hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

Fortunately, occupational hearing loss can be prevented. NIOSH has produced new hearing loss prevention guidance, using the hierarchy of controls (see image). Actions that workers, employers and safety professionals can take to prevent exposures to the hearing hazards of noise and ototoxic chemicals are provided in detail. With so much more to lose, hearing loss prevention should be a priority.

To view the motivational videos discussed in this article, go to: https://nhc.memberclicks.net/hearing-is-quality-of-life

Elizabeth A. Masterson is a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Research Epidemiologist and National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) Expert. Visit NHCA at: https://www.hearingconservation.org/

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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