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How can my occupation affect my hearing?

Occupational hearing loss occurs as a result of workers' exposure to loud noise. Noise levels over 85 decibels can be hazardous to hearing. If you have to raise your voice to speak to someone an arm’s length away, the noise levels may be loud enough to damage your hearing.

Your level of risk is influenced by several factors:

  • Noise level: as noise level increases, the risk also increases
  • Duration of exposure: the longer the noise lasts, the more hazardous it becomes
  • Impulsiveness: noises that have very abrupt starts and stops (such as hammering, gunfire or fireworks) are more dangerous than constant noise of the same overall level
  • Intermittency: periods of relative quiet between exposures allow the ear to "rest" and reduce the risk

Ototoxic chemicals can also affect hearing. Workplace chemicals that pose a threat to hearing include:

  • Organic solvents such as toluene, styrene, xylene, ethylbenzene and trichloroethylene
  • Heavy metals such as mercury, lead and trimethyltin
  • Asphyxiants such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide
  • Endocrine disrupters such as Aroclor 1254 and Acrylonitrile

All workers are not equally vulnerable to occupational hearing loss. Certain biological factors such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, genetics and health issues can influence a worker's susceptibility to the effects of noise.

The ear does not experience pain in the same way the rest of the body does. If your ears feel stuffy or full, your ears are telling you that you have potentially harmed them. Ringing or roaring in your ears indicate a serious noise exposure, which if continued could lead to permanent damage and hearing loss.

Boston Women's Health Book Collective
Administration Specialist

The most common occupational disease in the United States, hearing loss can reduce alertness to safety warnings and severely impair the quality of a worker's life. While hearing loss can occur from an acute injury, it is more likely to develop gradually over time, as a result of exposure to noise, solvents, metals, asphyxiants, or heat. Loss of hearing does not often hurt, so it may take a while to notice. Once it starts, it is usually irreversible. Most workers are unaware that exposure to certain kinds of chemicals can cause hearing loss.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.