What’s That You Said?
Loss of Hearing From a Noisy Workplace
Noise-induced hearing loss is related to damage to your inner ear as a result of damage by loud noises. This can be a gradual process caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise (typically 80 decibels or higher), or it can happen suddenly when very loud noises, such as a gunshot or explosion, damage your eardrum. If the hearing loss is brought on gradually, it is usually not reversible.
Occupational hearing loss is hearing loss that happens as a result of exposure on the job to high levels of noise or substances that can harm hearing. Every year, approximately 30 million people in the United States are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise. Noise-related hearing loss has been listed as one of the most prevalent occupational health concerns in the United States for more than 25 years. Thousands of workers every year suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2009 alone, BLS reported more than 21,000 hearing loss cases.
Exposure to excessive noise levels is known to occur in many occupations including welding, ship and aircraft building, manufacturing, concert venues and even in today’s “trendy” restaurants where loud environments are often deliberately designed to make the eatery seem more exciting.
Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor a hearing aid can reverse this type of hearing loss. Short term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus). These short-term problems may go away within a few minutes or hours after leaving the noisy area. However, repeated exposures to loud noise can lead to permanent tinnitus (constant hissing or ringing in the ears) and/or hearing loss.
Loud noise can also create physical and psychological stress, reduce productivity, interfere with communication and concentration, and contribute to workplace accidents and injuries by making it difficult to hear warning signals. Noise-induced hearing loss limits your ability to hear high frequency sounds, understand speech, and seriously impairs your ability to communicate. The effects of hearing loss can be profound, as hearing loss can interfere with your ability to enjoy socializing with friends, playing with your children or grandchildren, or participating in other social activities you enjoy, and can lead to psychological and social isolation.
Diagnosis of noise-induced hearing loss is usually made by an audiologist and/or a doctor specializing in ear, nose and throat issues. A main diagnostic tool is called an audiogram, which tests your ability to hear tones at various frequencies. Hearing is tested at 500,1000, 2000, and 3000hz. Some hearing loss due to age is considered normal and some hearing loss may be attributable to other causes such as traumatic injury or disease. However, noise-induced hearing loss produces a unique “signature” on an audiogram that makes it readily identifiable.
Even if you have not worked for a long time, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits if it is determined that your loss of hearing is due to noise at work. While the value of permanent disability payments for your hearing loss is typically modest, and the first -25db of loss in each ear is not even considered, you might be entitled to medical treatment, including hearing aids, for life. This is a benefit not available through most private insurance policies or Medicare and is potentially quite valuable.
No matter how you look at it, hearing aids are expensive Experts say you are not only buying a high-tech device that requires extensive research, but also likely paying for services from highly trained hearing specialists during the life span of your hearing aids. You can expect to pay anywhere from about $2,200 to more than $7,000 a pair for devices with the latest tech, such as the ability to wirelessly stream sound from your television and link up to your smartphone. According to a survey published by the Hearing Review, the average price of a mid-level pair of aids hovered between $4,400 and $4,500 in 2014.
Hearing aids are not a one time purchase. Hearing devices last an average of five to seven years. Most people seek to replace their hearing aids every four to five years. The hearing aids themselves may last longer, but technology significantly improves about every four years. Like other electronics, hearing aids are rapidly advancing. Manufacturers typically stop making parts for devices after about five years and some will not even service devices after that. The value of a hearing tests and replacement hearing aids over the balance of your lifetime may be quite substantial.
The first step in evaluating whether you have a claim for hearing loss is to have your hearing evaluated with an audiogram. We can provide assistance to obtain an audiometric examination at no cost to you. For more information, contact us. We are happy to help.
All cases are different. The information presented here does not constitute legal advice regarding your case.
Certified Specialist, Workers' Compensation, The State Bar of California
Board of Legal Specialization