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Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear from noise or vibrations due to certain types of jobs or entertainment.
Hearing loss - occupational
Occupational hearing loss is a form of acoustic trauma caused by exposure to vibration or sound. Sound is heard as the ear converts vibration from sound waves into impulses in the nerves of the ear.
Sounds above 90 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibration intense enough to damage the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time.
A general rule of thumb is that if you need to shout to be heard, the sound is in the range that can damage hearing.
Some jobs carry a high risk for hearing loss, such as:
In the U.S., the maximum job noise exposure is regulated by law. Both the length of exposure and decibel level are considered. If the sound is at or greater than the maximum levels recommended, protective measures are required.
The main symptom is partial or complete hearing loss. The hearing loss may get worse over time with continued exposure.
Sometimes hearing loss is accompanied by noise in the ear (tinnitus).
A physical examination will not usually show any specific changes. Tests that may be performed include:
The hearing loss is usually permanent. The goal of treatment is to prevent further hearing loss, improve communication with any remaining hearing, and develop coping skills (such as lip reading).
Using a hearing aid may improve communication. Always protect the ear from further damage. For example, wear ear plugs in noisy areas.
Hearing loss is often permanent in the affected ear. The loss may get worse if you don't take measures to prevent further damage.
Hearing loss may progress to total deafness.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Lonsbury-Martin BL, Martin GK. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Cummings CW, Flint PW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2010:chap 151.