Objectives The authors had a unique opportunity to study the early impacts of occupational and recreational exposures on the development of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in a cohort of 392 young workers. The objectives of this study were to estimate strength of associations between occupational and recreational exposures and occurrence of early-stage NIHL and to determine the extent to which relationships between specific noise exposures and early-stage NIHL were mitigated through the use of hearing protection.
Methods Participants were young adults who agreed to participate in a follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. While the follow-up study was designed to observe long-term effects (up to 16 years) of a hearing conservation intervention for high school students, it also provided opportunity to study the potential aetiology of NIHL in this worker cohort. Study data were collected via exposure history questionnaires and clinical audiometric examinations.
Results Over the 16-year study period, the authors documented changes to hearing acuity that exceeded 15 dB at high frequencies in 42.8% of men and 27.7% of women. Analyses of risk factors for NIHL were limited to men, who comprised 68% of the cohort, and showed that risks increased in association with higher levels of the most common recreational and occupational noise sources, as well as chemical exposures with ototoxic potential. Use of hearing protection and other safety measures, although not universal and sometimes modest, appeared to offer some protection.
Conclusions Early-stage NIHL can be detected in young workers by measuring high-frequency changes in hearing acuity. Hearing conservation programmes should focus on a broader range of exposures, whether in occupational or non-occupational settings. Priority exposures include gunshots, chainsaws, power tools, smoking and potentially some chemical exposures.
- Hearing conservation
- noise-induced hearing loss
- young worker
- health and safety
- occupational health practice
- public health
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