Released: October 29, 2003
Farmers Experience More Hearing Loss Than Average
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Nearly 75 percent of all farmers suffer from some hearing loss, compared with one in 10 of the general public that develop hearing loss, according to the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH).
The statistics are a reminder that the farm can be a very noisy place, said Kansas State University Extension farm safety specialist John Slocombe.
Hearing loss can happen gradually, so gradually that it may not be noticeable to to the person who’s losing his or her hearing. It can be caused by both loudness and the length of time a person is exposed to the loud noises, Slocombe said. On the farm, that means exposure to engines running, squealing pigs, or power tools can damage hearing in as little as two hours, unless some type of hearing protection is used. Hearing protection decreases the intensity of sound that reaches the ear drum.
The bad news about hearing loss is that it is permanent, he said. Once it is lost, it can’t be recovered. The good news is that it is easy to protect against it.
The first step is to recognize that many sounds on the farm can be damaging. If any noise is so loud that people must shout to be heard, or if the noise hurts your ears, makes your ears ring, or leaves you slightly deaf for several hours after exposure, it is too loud and steps should be taken to protect yourself, the farm safety specialist said.
Eliminating the noise is the perfect solution, but since that is not always possible, hearing protection should be worn. Protectors such as ear plugs and ear muffs are available at most farm supply, hardware, and discount retail stores. When properly fitted, plugs and muffs allow a person to hear conversation and the sounds of machinery, but with the volume of sound greatly reduced - thus protecting hearing.
An added benefit, Slocombe said, is that the wearer will feel less fatigued at the end of the day.
For the best safeguard, look for hearing protection that carries a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 25 or higher. Those who already have hearing loss, may want a lower rating, he said. Choose protection that is comfortable and easy to use, so there will be no excuse for not using it.
In addition, because farmers are continually exposed to loud noises, they should have their hearing tested regularly, Slocombe said. An audiogram will reveal signs of hearing loss so that steps can be taken to reduce exposure and stop further hearing damage.
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
Kerri Ebert is at 785-532-2976 and John Slocombe is at 785-532-2906