With Workers’ Memorial Day approaching on April 28, CDC researchers noted that hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical injury in the United States.

hearing-loss1In study findings published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the researchers stated that workers in the mining sector had the highest prevalence of hearing impairment, followed by the construction and manufacturing industriesThey also concluded that hearing loss prevention, early detection and intervention to avoid additional hearing loss, are critical to preserving workers’ quality of life.

“Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States, and is more prevalent than diabetes or cancer,” Elizabeth A. Masterson, PhD, of the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and colleagues wrote. “Occupational hearing loss, primarily caused by high noise exposure, is the most common U.S. work-related illness.”

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To determine the prevalence of occupational hearing loss, the researchers examined data from nine U.S. industries, using 1,413,789 noise-exposed worker audiograms from the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance Project. The sample represented 25,908 U.S. companies. The cross-sectional retrospective cohort analysis used the last audiogram completed for each worker during 2003 to 2012.

The researchers estimated hearing loss prevalence at six levels, measured in the worker’s better ear, and the impact on quality of life measured in annual disability-adjusted life years, defined in the 2013 Global Burden of Disease study.

According to the researchers, among all industries, 13% of workers exposed to noise had any hearing impairment, while 2% suffered moderate or worse impairment. The mining industry had the highest prevalence, with 17% experiencing any impairment and 3% with moderate or worse impairment. The construction sector had 16% with any impairment and 3% with moderate or worse impairment, and the manufacturing industry had 14% with any impairment and 2% with moderate or worse impairment. The safety sector, representing police officers and firefighters, had the lowest prevalence, with 7% experiencing any impairment.

“Although lost hearing cannot be recovered, workers can benefit from clinical rehabilitation, which includes fitting hearing aids, learning lip-reading and adopting other compensation strategies to optimize hearing,” Masterson and colleagues wrote. “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.”

– by Jason Laday