Mining and Construction Workers Most Affected by Occupational Hearing Loss

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Elizabeth A. Masterson, PhD CPH
Dr. Masterson is an epidemiologist in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies
CDC

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Masterson: Occupational hearing loss, primarily caused by high noise exposure, is the most common work-related illness in the United States. It is a permanent but entirely preventable condition. Researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared the prevalence of hearing impairment within nine industry sectors and the associated impact on quality of life for noise-exposed workers.

Hearing impairment is hearing loss that impacts day-to-day activities. The Mining sector had the highest prevalence of workers with any hearing impairment, and with moderate or worse impairment, followed by the Construction and Manufacturing sectors. Impact on quality of life was measured by calculating disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). DALYs represented the number of healthy years lost because of hearing impairment. This study found that 2.5 healthy years were lost each year for every 1,000 noise-exposed U.S. workers because of hearing impairment. These lost years of good health were shared among the 13% of workers with hearing impairment (about 130 workers out of each 1,000 workers). Mining, Construction and Manufacturing workers lost more healthy years than workers in other industry sectors (3.5, 3.1 and 2.7 healthy years lost, respectively, each year for every 1,000 workers). Mild impairment accounted for 52% of all healthy years lost and moderate impairment accounted for 27%. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and workers take away from your report?

Dr. Masterson: Since occupational hearing loss is permanent, prevention is key and can be completely successful with today’s hearing loss prevention strategies and technology. Concurrent with prevention efforts, early detection of hearing loss by consistent annual audiometric testing, and intervention to preclude further loss (e.g., refitting hearing protection, training), are critical. Workers who have lost hearing can also benefit from clinical rehabilitation, which includes fitting hearing aids, learning lip-reading, and adopting other compensation strategies to optimize hearing. Study results support beginning rehabilitation at a mild level of hearing impairment. Prevention, and early detection, intervention, and rehabilitation, might greatly improve workers’ quality of life.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Masterson: Continued surveillance of occupational hearing loss is critical for prevention efforts. Surveillance enables NIOSH and others to identify high risk groups, guide prevention and research efforts, monitor progress, and evaluate the success or failure of interventions.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Dr. Masterson: The NIOSH study used Global Burden of Disease Study definitions for hearing impairment levels, which are conservative, and there are stringent requirements to reach even mild impairment. This and other study limitations might have lowered impairment estimates, and worker hearing impairment might be higher than reported. 

MedicalResearch.com: Thank you for your contribution to the MedicalResearch.com community.

Citation:

Masterson EA, Bushnell PT, Themann CL, Morata TC. Hearing Impairment Among Noise-Exposed Workers — United States, 2003–2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2016;65:389–394. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6515a2

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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