Noise exposure at work is a reality for many Québécois. In factories, construction, transportation, entertainment fields, etc., noise can reach extremely loud levels. Hearing damages occur based on the volume of noise and exposure time. The louder the volume, the quicker the damage.
After a day at work, workers in noise may feel tired, have ringing ears, and have a sensation of muffled ears (blocked ears). As days/years of noise exposure add up, these initially temporary symptoms may become permanent. As a result, noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus can occur.
Noise-induced hearing loss usually affects both ears equally. Generally, the damage begins in the high frequencies. Thus, high pitch sounds are difficult to perceive (e.g. birdsong, ringing tones). Difficulty in understanding speech in noise and in group settings is often the first sign of hearing loss. Tinnitus (hissing, ringing, or buzzing) may also occur. Over time, noise exposure can cause hearing loss to progress, making it more difficult to understand everyday speech.
Usually, this type of hearing loss sets in gradually, which means that it can go unnoticed for several years. Because of his insidious onset, it is common for those around to notice signs of hearing loss even before the person concerned notices it.
The Audiologist’s role
First of all, the audiologist does a hearing evaluation to determine the presence of a hearing loss, its degree, and its origin. The audiologist may conclude to a possible noise-induced hearing loss. If the person is or was covered by the CNESST when working in noise, a claim for compensation may be made. The audiologist can start the process and refer the person to an ENT doctor to complete the procedures with the CNESST.
The person’s needs in different situations (eg. at home, at the restaurant, at work, etc.) are also evaluated to then make the appropriate recommendations. These may include hearing aids, assistive listening devices (eg. amplified phone or headphones to watch television), counseling about communication strategies to the person’s family and friends, lip-reading classes, etc. The options vary according to the needs of the person and his entourage.
Occasionally, the audiologist may be asked to go to the workstation to assess the noise levels to which workers are exposed. Specific recommendations are then issued to minimize hearing damage. These recommendations relate to minimizing noise at the source, its propagation, and exposure time. As a last resort, wearing hearing protection is recommended.