You already know that loud careers can cause hearing loss without proper hearing protection. Day after day, being exposed to the sounds of blasts, heavy machinery, riveters, or insanely loud music destroy your inner ear.
But you may not know about these occupations that are less talked about but can be as risky.
Those working in the fishing industry have a 19% chance of developing hearing loss during their careers. That doesn’t mean hearing loss happens later in life — when they’re in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. They actually develop it in their 50’s, 40’s, 30’s and sometimes as early as their 20’s. It only gets worse as they age.
For comparison, hearing loss among “working age” adults is typically around 2-8%. That’s a big difference from the fishing industry, which is 19%.
Those that fish are exposed to long hours of high volume motors, processing equipment, tanks, and other machinery should use hearing protection.
If you’re a hobby fisher, you are also at risk. A boat motor will stay above 80 decibels at cruising speeds and be around 90 decibels at full throttle. An older boat may get up to 100.
This is enough to damage hearing with prolonged exposure.
Agricultural and dairy farmers alike are exposed to very loud machinery. A tractor will idle at around 85 decibels, the minimum necessary to cause hearing loss. When it’s moving, it gets up to 100. That volume can damage hearing within 15 minutes.
Other farm equipment reaches similar volumes.
Around 78% of farmers develop hearing loss even as young as middle-aged adults.
The sound of a shotgun, rifle, or even a pistol is enough to cause permanent hearing loss instantly. Researchers estimate that 80-90% of hunters don’t use any hearing protection. 40% of target shooters don’t.
It’s no surprise that 80% of hunters have some hearing loss that will only get worse as they age. And perhaps saddest of all, 16% of young hunters (12-16 years old) already have hearing loss as they follow in the grown-ups’ footsteps.
Those in the logging industry have a 36% chance of developing hearing loss while on the job. Not only are you exposed to the sounds of mills and chainsaws, but you’re also frequently changing altitudes as many forestry operations are done at higher elevations.
When you change altitude, pressure either builds up or compacts in your middle ear. Your ears pop to equalize forces in the middle ear with the outside air. Often it’s harmless, but it can cause barotrauma.
This can make your ears especially susceptible to tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and tears in the membrane separating the inner ear from the middle ear. Permanent hearing loss can result.
Whether you’re a photographer, a scuba instructor, a marine biologist, or spend a lot of time under the waves, you’re at increased risk for hearing loss due to the loud motor noises coupled with barotrauma caused by a significant altitude change.
The little tears that result often require surgery. They may become worse from subsequent dives or diving too soon after surgery.
Following safe diving practices can virtually eliminate the risk.
Pilots, flight attendants, and other flight staff are also exposed to high volumes on flights.
During take-off, a commercial jet produces 150 decibels. That’s enough to burst an eardrum. Smaller military jets can produce up to 130 decibels, enough to almost instantly and permanently damage hearing.
How to Protect Your Hearing in High-Risk Professions
Let’s talk about prevention.
- Follow your employer’s and industry rules related to hearing protection, even if it’s inconvenient. Employers are required by OSHA to test sound levels and properly equip at-risk workers with protection.
- Wear earplugs if you’re in a high-risk profession. Wear earplugs and protective earmuffs if the noise is especially loud.
- Get a decibel meter app on your smartphone. Find out for yourself just how loud your work environment is. Take precautions.
- If you feel a fullness in your ears that doesn’t go away after you’ve changed altitudes, you may have a tear and should schedule an appointment with an audiologist to get it checked out.
- Get regular hearing tests. Know how your job is impacting your hearing. It may encourage you to take additional precautions. You can be one of the 20 or so percent of people in these professions who keep their hearing if you take smart steps.
- Don’t let people tell you, “it’s not that LOUD” or convince you that you don’t need protection. They probably no longer hear how loud it is because they’ve already sustained serious damage. This isn’t about them. It’s about you, your family, your health, and your happiness.