Increased risk of injury in tinnitus patients

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Results of a new study provide further evidence that tinnitus combined with high-frequency hearing loss may represent an important safety hazard to workers, especially in noisy environments.

Researchers from Yale’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program (Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, USA) recently published the results of their study in the International Journal of Audiology. The study included more than 8800 workers employed at six aluminum manufacturing plants between 2003 to 2008.

The aim was to carry out a retrospective analysis of the relative contributions of tinnitus, asymmetrical hearing loss, low-frequency hearing loss, and high-frequency hearing loss to acute injury risk. The study adjusted for ambient noise exposure and for other known predictors of injury risk.

Results showed that there is a 25% increased risk of acute injury and a subset of serious acute injuries among workers with a history of tinnitus in conjunction with high-frequency hearing loss. Low-frequency hearing loss was found to be potentially associated with minor, less serious injury risk. No evidence was found that asymmetry contributes to this risk. The authors mention already established links between tinnitus and sleep disturbance, fatigue, and distraction.

In their conclusion, the researchers point to the importance of carefully examining the communication needs of hearing-impaired workers and workers with tinnitus who are exposed to workplace noise. They also recommend that more studies be conducted to assess relationships between tinnitus, hearing loss, and injury risk.

Source: Cantley LF, et al. Does tinnitus, hearing asymmetry, or hearing loss predispose to occupational injury risk? International Journal of Audiology 2014 Dec 30:1-7; Safety and Health Magazine.

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