Noise-related Hearing Loss is Europe's Most Common Occupational Disease

Spanish researchers analyzed the influence of various physical and chemical contaminants.

A study carried out by Spanish researchers confirms chemical contaminants can interact with noise and modify, for good or bad, how work-related "deafness" -- which is increasingly common among young people -- manifests itself. Noise-related hearing loss is the most common occupational disease in Europe.

"Workers exposed to noise in the presence of metalworking fluids exhibit a delay in hearing alteration in comparison with those exposed only to noise at the same intensity. However, those exposed to noise in the presence of welding fumes experience increased hearing alteration," said Juan Carlos Conte, lead author of the study and a researcher at the University of Zaragoza.

In the study, published in Anales del Sistema Sanitario de Navarra, the team analyzed the way in which various physical and chemical contaminants interact, and the impact this had on hearing alteration in 558 metal workers. "A problem we detected with respect to welding fumes in the presence of noise was that the protection used is effective for reducing the intensity of noise, but not for reducing the effects of the chemical contaminant," Conte said. Cellulose masks or others made of similar compounds had little effect because their capacity to filter particles has no effect on toxic gas molecules (such as carbon monoxide).

In noisy atmospheres with metalworking fluids, people have the advantage of being able to use masks as respiratory protection; the hearing protection must be used in the same way to ensure that a person is comprehensively protected from noise, the researchers said.

They discussed other factors involved in work-related hearing loss: Tobacco contributes to the acquisition of initial acoustic trauma, while exposure to noise outside the work environment also can advance acoustic injury.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU OSHA, 2006) recognizes that noise-related hearing loss is the most common professional disease seen in Europe and suggests placing more attention on combined risk factors for workers exposed to high noise levels and chemical compounds.

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