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Occupational hearing loss

Hearing loss - occupational; Noise-induced hearing loss; Noise notch

Occupational hearing loss is damage to the inner ear from noise or vibrations due to certain types of jobs.

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Ear anatomy

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Hearing and the cochlea

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Causes

Over time, repeated exposure to loud noise or music can cause hearing loss.

Sounds above 80 decibels (dB, a measurement of the loudness or strength of sound vibration) may cause vibrations intense enough to damage the inner ear. This is more likely to happen 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 United States, laws regulate the maximum job noise exposure that it is allowed. Both the length of exposure and decibel level are considered. If the sound is at or greater than the maximum levels recommended, you need to take steps to protect your hearing.

Symptoms

The main symptom is partial or complete hearing loss. The hearing loss will likely get worse over time with continued exposure.

Noise in the ear (tinnitus) may accompany hearing loss.

Exams and Tests

A physical exam will not show any specific changes in most cases. Tests that may be done include:

Treatment

The hearing loss is very often permanent. The goals of treatment are to:

You may need to learn to live with hearing loss. There are techniques you can learn to improve communication and avoid stress. Many things in your surroundings can affect how well you hear and understand what others are saying.

Using a hearing aid may help you understand speech. You can also use other devices to help with hearing loss. If the hearing loss is severe enough, a cochlear implant may help.

Protecting your ears from any further damage and hearing loss is a key part of treatment. Protect your ears when you are exposed to loud noises. Wear ear plugs or earmuffs to protect against damage from loud equipment.

Be aware of risks connected with recreation such as shooting a gun, driving snowmobiles, or other similar activities.

Learn how to protect your ears when listening to music at home or concerts.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Hearing loss is often permanent. The loss may get worse if you don't take measures to prevent further damage.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if:

Prevention

The following steps can help prevent hearing loss.

Related Information

Acoustic trauma
Hearing loss

References

Arts HA, Adams ME. Sensorineural hearing loss in adults. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 152.

Eggermont JJ. Causes of acquired hearing loss. In: Eggermont JJ, ed. Hearing Loss. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Academic Press; 2017:chap 6.

Le Prell CG. Noise-induced hearing loss. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 154.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Noise-induced hearing loss. NIH Pub. No. 14-4233. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss. Updated March 16, 2022. Accessed August 2, 2022.

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Review Date: 5/30/2022  

Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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