Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common occupational disorder. It is a significant health concern that affects about 500 million people in the world. Occupational noise hazards increase the prevalence of early-onset age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline. Firefighters, military personnel, manufacturing employees, and construction workers are at high risk of developing hearing loss.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates, noises exceeding 85 A-weighted decibels (scale for measuring noise) are considered loud or hazardous. Exposure to high noise levels can accelerate age-related structural changes in the inner ear. The inner ear contains the cochlea, where the outer hair cells are located. Injury to these specialized hearing cells can lead to permanent hearing impairment and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).   

Firefighters and hearing loss

Firefighters are continuously exposed to loud noise that exceeds the recommended limit, hence being at increased risk of noise-induced hearing loss. According to a recent study, about 30% of the participating firefighters were diagnosed with mild to profound hearing loss, significantly higher than the general aging population. Other common symptoms reported by the firefighters that can potentially be linked to hazardous noise were tinnitus and balance problems.

Various activities during their duty are associated with hazardous levels of noise exposure. Sirens, alarms, water pumps, saws, engines, and other equipment can be sources of harmful noise. In some cases, they do not use proper hearing protection as they prioritize the emergent response during their work over the long-term possible effects on their hearing health. They think that protection devices can affect their job performance. Additionally, they communicate with each other or civilians through shouting during emergencies, further increasing hearing injury.   

Preventing hearing loss among firefighters

Even though noise-induced hearing loss is permanent, preventive measures can be utilized to protect the hearing and avoid further deterioration among firefighters. These measures include encouraging the firefighters to wear hearing protection devices such as earmuffs or earplugs that will not interfere with their job performance, monitoring the noise levels, minimizing noise exposure by engineering control, conducting frequent hearing tests to detect early-onset hearing loss, increasing the awareness of hearing loss among the firefighters at the beginning of their career and implementing training programs on hearing safety.    

Management plan for hearing loss

Noise-induced hearing loss develops gradually and irreversibly affects hearing. Once experiencing early symptoms of hearing loss, firefighters and anyone else should make an appointment with an audiologist to have their hearing checked. Early symptoms include trouble following conversations, tinnitus, and difficulties talking on the phone and listening to the radio or TV.

Once the physician diagnoses hearing loss, the patient will be advised to use hearing devices. OTC hearing aids can amplify the intensity of different sounds and significantly improve the patient’s quality of life.

 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9518181/

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/about.html

https://tohear.com/fighting-fires-and-hearing-loss/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10001319/

May 17, 2024 — Official Linner
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