When Your Job Makes You Hard of Hearing

Getting older is already a risk factor for hearing loss. Unfortunately, getting older after having a career in certain occupations raises that risk. And not surprisingly, jobs that are loud are jobs that can negatively affect hearing.

The economic sectors most detrimental to hearing are manufacturing (factory work), construction, aviation, mining, agriculture, and the military.

But others aren’t as obvious. The entertainment industry — including bartenders and waitstaff who work in nightclubs and concert venues — is high-risk. So too are dentists (those drills), ambulance drivers (sirens), and PE teachers (lose that whistle).

Basically, any job where high-decibel noise is an every day (or every night) occurrence.

One 2018 study, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that tracked workers in the nuclear power industry, discovered that over half had hearing loss issues. The study was based on data collected from over 19,000 workers by the Building Trades Medical Screening Program. The Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) sponsored the research.

The study amplified a not surprising finding — the longer the career in a high-decibel setting the higher the hazard. Workers with careers over 30 years were 4 times more likely to having hearing issues than those who had worked for less than 10 years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “occupational hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States” with over 22 million workers exposed to dangerous noise levels while on the job.

And most alarming, the injury to one’s ears is usually cumulative, meaning it can be getting worse before becoming obvious later in life.

Using hearing protection now — each and every day (or night) on the job — is really the only way to keep occupational hearing loss at bay.

Hearing Loss and Genetics

For most people, hearing loss issues develop because something happens later in life. They get older or their ears are damaged because of accidents, infection, or exposure to loud noise.

But for some, it’s a matter of being born with issues. This falls under the rubric of genetic hearing disorders.

Genes are the basic building block of cell growth. They are the instruction manual. And unfortunately, problems can arise. These are known as mutations. These can then be passed down to successive generations as familial traits. Other factors, such as radiation exposure, can also introduce mutations.

Genetic hearing issues have been broken down into several broad categories.

When both parents have genetic traits and they are passed onto their child it is known as autosomal recessive hearing loss. Even if both parents have normal hearing, the dormant genetic predisposition can be active in their children.

If only one parent — or a new mutation — is the reason for hearing issues it’s known as autosomal dominant hearing loss.

X-linked hearing loss — when the X-chromosome mutates — is a far more common issue in men than women. Men only have one X-chromosome, while women have two (which makes the mutation less severe for women).

Genetic issues with the mitochondria don’t directly affect the ear but can do so indirectly. Mitochondria are the part of cells that generate energy and problems with them can negatively impact the workings of the inner ear.

Given the vast number of instructions in the human genome — it contains 3 billion base pairs of DNA — it’s a wonder things don’t go wrong more often. Only a few genetic wrong turns can introduce hearing loss.