Hearing Loss: The Silent Epidemic

  • Abend, Ellen

Hearing loss is one of the most widespread health problems in the United States today. Over 20 million people experience some form of hearing loss and yet, because it is painless and invisible, many people refuse to admit that it exists.

One of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss is exposure to loud noises. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), which is characterized by a loss of ability to distinguish high frequency sounds, can affect all ages. This type of hearing loss depends on the loudness of the noise (measured in decibels) and duration of exposure to the noise. Farmers, workers, and family members are potential victims of NIHL due to excessive noise exposure and little use of hearing protection during routine farm work.

With these factors in mind, the Cornell Farm Safety Research Team and the Dryden Sertoma Club conducted a hearing screening for anyone attending the 1993 Empire Farm Days held in Seneca Falls, New York. Each volunteer participant had their hearing screened for NIHL and then could consult with a certified audiologist who made recommendations pertinent to the individual.

Of the 182 people who participated in the screening, 50 percent were found to have experienced some degree of NIHL. Almost 76 percent of these people lived on or worked on a farm. Included here are some of the screening results from the farm participants.

Thirty-six farm women were screened and 22 percent (8) showed evidence of NIHL. None of the eight women used any hearing protection when working on the farm, which may indicate that family members do not realize the importance of everyone wearing hearing protection while working.

In looking at the 125 males that were screened, it was found that 78 percent (97) were associated with farms and 63 percent (61) of these men showed evidence of NIHL. Of those with NIHL, 43 percent claimed they used hearing protection some of the time, while 64 percent of the farmers who did not experience NIHL did use hearing protection. All of the male farmers over the age of 60 exhibited NIHL.

Many of the people who participated in the screening did so because they suspected they had hearing loss, therefore, no specific conclusions can be drawn. However, the increasing trend of NIHL shown in other research was evident. Farmers need to be aware that noise induced hearing loss can be reduced if hearing protection is worn regularly by everyone operating equipment, power tools, or firearms.

Hearing protection is available in many styles and types and can be purchased at farm supply stores or through catalogues. Providing protection that will prevent hearing loss is one positive step toward promoting the health of everyone on the farm.

Ellen Abend, Farm Safety Research, Cornell

Source: Cornell Cooperative Extension, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Provider: Ag Information Services -- News & Publications, Penn State
January 6, 1994

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