In cases of Industrial Hearing Loss, the inner ear becomes damaged as a result of exposure to intense sounds (noise). The inner ear has tufts on the cells which pick up noise and pass this information on to the brain for processing. They are like tiny hairs and can be compared with strands of grass in a field. The grass can withstand ordinary levels of wind and will stand up again when the wind has passed, but if the wind is too strong, the grass will blow down and not stand up again. Similarly, if the noise is too intense, the hairs in the inner ear will not stand up again and hearing loss will follow.
Once the hair cells are exposed to repeated or excessive levels of noise, they will die and noise induced hearing loss is the result. The gap in the hearing mechanism is permanent and cannot be naturally healed. Sensori neural hearing loss is the name of the hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise.
Some hearing loss is caused naturally and does not have to be related to noise. Age related hearing loss comes as the workings of the ear deteriorate over time.
Simple problems like wax building up in the ear or catarrh entering the middle ear through the Eustachian tube which connects the middle ear to the throat can also cause damage to hearing. A blow to the head or an infection can cause damage to ossicles in the middle ear which will reduce hearing. This type of hearing loss is called a conductive hearing loss and is not related to working in a noisy job.
An expert ENT surgeon’s report will be required to clarify what type of injury you are suffering from and whether or not it is noise induced hearing loss.
Am I at risk from Industrial Hearing Loss?
There are a number of factors that should be considered when assessing a workers vulnerability to a noise induced hearing loss:
- Is the noise intrusive for most of the working day? – lengthy exposure to noise will increase the risk of damage to the ear
- Do you have to raise your voice to be heard at conversational distance? – this is a rough and ready indicator that a workplace is too loud
- Do you use noisy power tools for more than 30 minute per day? – power tools can create high levels of noise, so their prolonged use will increase the noise that a worker is exposed to
- Do you work close to the sounds of impact? – another good indicator that a person may be at risk of noise induced hearing loss
If the answer to any of these questions is "yes", then you may be at risk of industrial deafness.
Early signs of Industrial Hearing Loss
There are a variety of early signs which may suggest that a visit to the GP is appropriate:
- Conversation becomes difficult or impossible
- Family complain about TV being too loud
- Trouble using the telephone
- Difficult to catch sounds like "T", "D" and "S" so as a result, you confuse similar words
- Tinnitus or ringing in the ears
The normal way of diagnosing a hearing loss is through the use of pure tone audiometry. This is when audiometric testing takes place in a sound proofed booth or room. The patient will wear earphones and listed to the pure tone sounds at various frequencies and varying volumes. The results of the test are plotted on a chart called an audiogram and they can be interpreted by an specialist audiologist or Ear Nose & Throat surgeon.
Tinnitus is a Latin word, meaning "clanking sound". It is described by sufferers in different ways and can be a whistling, ringing, rushing or a pulsing sound. The loudness of the sound can vary dramatically between sufferers from a noise which is irritating, but mild, to a sound which is very loud and distressing.
Tinnitus can be caused by excessive noise at work, but it also can occur naturally in 1 out of 6 people. In some cases, it can also be related to use of aspirin or a blow to the head.
Many people with tinnitus will suffer from irritability, confusion, loss of concentration, insomnia and hearing difficulties.
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to relieve the symptoms of tinnitus. Sometimes people are fitted with maskers which replace the tinnitus sounds with an alternative sound to provide some relief, but this is not a long term solution for tinnitus sufferers.