If you’re one of the estimated 20 million Americans who suffer from hearing loss and are still in the workforce, find out whether or not hearing health is part of your employee wellness initiatives. The answer may benefit your pocketbook as well as your quality of life.
A study conducted by the Better Hearing Institute concluded that individuals with hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 annually. Those with a slight hearing loss who use hearing aids reduce their risk of losing income by 90 to 100 percent, while those with moderate to severe hearing loss who use hearing aids reduce their risk by 65 to 77 percent. Studies also show that employees with hearing loss take more sick days than those with normal hearing. Medical professionals believe that’s because it takes so much energy to overcome the impairment.
In addition to increasing earning potential and enhancing communication skills, those who improve their hearing with hearing aids also experience reduced incidents of depression and an overall improvement in job performance.
As part of Better Hearing Month in May, the Better Hearing Institute is offering a free online hearing test.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), estimate that 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise and another nine million are at risk of acquiring hearing loss from solvents and metals they encounter on the job.
Even though occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related injury in the United States, experts agree that it is 100 percent preventable. Employers should do their best to remove hazardous noise from the workplace and employees should wear protective hearing plugs or ear muffs when noise cannot be reduced to safe levels.
NIOSH recommends employers implement an eight step hearing loss prevention program which includes noise exposure monitoring, engineering and administrative controls, hearing evaluations, use of protective hearing devices, hearing health education, and regular program evaluations and audits.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warning signs that your workplace may be too noisy include:
• You hear ringing or humming in your ears when you leave work.
• You have to shout to be heard by a coworker an arm’s length away.
• You experience temporary hearing loss when leaving work.
OSHA standards limit workplace noise to 85 decibels in an eight hour work day.
If you work in a noisy environment, have your hearing checked annually. The earlier hearing loss is detected, the faster you can take steps to improve it and possibly prevent further impairment.
Even if you don’t work in a noisy environment, take advantage of any hearing health education or screenings offered by your employer. If an initial screening indicates you may have hearing loss, find a qualified audiologist or hearing center and have a thorough evaluation. Ask your employer if your health insurance covers the costs of hearing aids or if it’s possible to put money into a flex savings account so you can purchase them with pre-tax dollars. You may also qualify for vocational rehabilitation programs. These programs often pay the costs of hearing aids for those whose job performance is affected due to hearing loss.
To find an audiologist or hearing center in your community, be sure to check the Healthy Hearing directory. More than 4700 independent hearing centers are listed, along with patient recommendations and reviews.