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What Occupations are at Risk for Tinnitus?

Man Working with Earmuffs

While it is true that anyone can develop tinnitus (also known as ringing in the ears), certain occupations have been linked with the condition. To find out more about which occupations are considered to raise workers’ risk of tinnitus, read on.

Which occupations are thought to increase the risk for tinnitus?

A National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) study found that those who had worked in the following industries were at higher risk of experiencing tinnitus:

  • Agriculture
  • Forestry
  • Hunting and fishing
  • Architecture and engineering 
  • Manufacturing

In addition to the NIOSH report, other occupations are also associated with tinnitus – such as construction work. The same is also true of performing musical artists; Pete Townshend of The Who and Chris Martin of Coldplay are amongst many well-known names who have experienced the condition.

Why are these industries linked to tinnitus?

The common thread between all of the above industries is the fact that workers are likely to be exposed to loud noise throughout their working life. Agriculture-related occupations, for example, are often exposed to loud farm machinery, while those who work in manufacturing will often spend much of their day close to heavy factory equipment. The same applies to performing artists; The Who, for example, is known to be one of the loudest bands of all time.

Why does exposure to loud noise increase tinnitus risk?

When exposed to harmful levels of sound, the hair cells in the inner ear can become damaged. If the exposure is short, and the ears are given a chance to rest – then the damage may be minimal, and may not lead to hearing health issues.

However, if the exposure is prolonged – for example, an individual is exposed to loud noise for the duration of an eight-hour workday – and consistent across a period of time, without any chance for the hair cells to recover, then the hair cell damage can become permanent. Should this happen, tinnitus and hearing loss can develop.

How loud is too loud?

Noise over 85 decibels is capable of damaging hearing, and the risk increases the longer a person is exposed to sounds over this level.

Can tinnitus be prevented for those working in at-risk occupations?

It is not possible to completely prevent tinnitus from developing, but those who work in at-risk occupations can take steps to try and preserve their hearing health. These steps do not offer a guarantee that tinnitus will never develop, but they make it much less likely.

By far, the most crucial step in this regard is to wear hearing protection (such as earmuffs or earplugs) during working hours. Many loud industries will supply ear protection to employees, but if this is not the case, then consider purchasing your own. It can also be beneficial to take a break from the noisy work environment whenever possible; for example, leaving the site for lunch and seeking a quiet area instead.

Finally, regular hearing tests with an audiologist can allow workers to monitor the health of their hearing and, if necessary, take action as soon as any problems are identified.

For those who work in loud environments, taking steps to protect against tinnitus and arranging regular hearing tests is strongly recommended.