NIOSH Study Pinpoints Industries with Hearing Problems

NIOSH reports that hazardous noise affects approximately 22 million U.S. workers. This study is the first to report prevalence estimates for tinnitus by U.S. industry sector and occupation and provide these estimates side by side with prevalence estimates of hearing difficulty, according to the agency.

A newly published study from NIOSH examined hearing difficulty and tinnitus in various industries, based on data from the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. This provided detailed, self-reported information on hearing difficulty, tinnitus, and exposures to occupational noise. The researchers found that:

  • Seven percent of U.S. workers never exposed to noise on the job had hearing difficulty, 5 percent had tinnitus, and 2 percent had both conditions. Among workers who had at some point in their working careers been exposed to occupational noise, the prevalence was 23 percent, 15 percent, and 9 percent, respectively.
  • Workers in agriculture, forestry, and the fishing and hunting industry had a significantly higher risk of hearing difficulty, tinnitus, and their co-occurrence. Manufacturing workers also had significantly higher risks for tinnitus and the co-occurrence of tinnitus and hearing difficulty.
  • Workers in life, physical and social science occupations, and personal care and service occupations had significantly higher risks for hearing difficulty. Workers in architecture and engineering occupations also had significantly higher risks for tinnitus.
  • Workers in sales and related occupations had significantly lower risks for hearing difficulty, tinnitus and their co-occurrence.

The study was published by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine last week, and details were posted Feb. 1 by NIOSH, which reports that hazardous noise affects approximately 22 million U.S. workers. This study is the first to report prevalence estimates for tinnitus by U.S. industry sector and occupation and provide these estimates side by side with prevalence estimates of hearing difficulty, according to the agency.

"Hearing loss can greatly impact a workers' overall health and well-being," said NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, M.D. "A study of the prevalence of hearing conditions among the overall U.S. adult population and among noise-exposed and non-noise-exposed workers gives a clearer understanding of where improved strategies for prevention of hearing loss are needed. Hazardous levels of occupational noise exposure and environmental noise exposure both need to be avoided."

The study, "Hearing Difficulty and Tinnitus among U.S. Workers and Non-workers in 2007," can be found here.

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