Occupational safety: prevalence of hearing difficulty and tinnitus among workers

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The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has released new data on the estimated prevalence of hearing difficulty and tinnitus in the occupational context.

The Institute, within the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recently published the findings of its study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, indicating that hazardous noise is prevalent in the workplace and affects about 22 million workers in the United States.

The study was based on data collected as part of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which collected self-reported information on hearing problems, tinnitus, and exposure to occupational noise. Its key findings were that 7% of workers never exposed to occupational noise had hearing difficulties, 5% had tinnitus, and 2% had both. In comparison, those exposed to occupational noise showed prevalences of 23%, 15%, and 9%, respectively. At-risk sectors included agriculture, forestry, fishing, manufacture, and the hunting industry, while a lower risk was found for sales and related professions.

“Hearing loss can greatly impact a worker’s overall health and well-being,” said John Howard, M.D., NIOSH Director. “A study of the prevalence of hearing conditions among the overall US 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 is the first report providing prevalence estimates for tinnitus by industry sector and occupation, along with parallel prevalence estimates for hearing disorders.