Farmers warned to take precautions with their ears
Published 10:38 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Whether you’re blowing yard debris from walkways or driving a tractor through a field, noisy equipment can exacerbate hearing loss.
As outdoor duties intensify, homeowners and farmers alike should take precautions to protect their ears when using loud equipment.
Damage to inner-ear hair cells, called cilia, often is caused by exposure to excessively loud sounds, and cannot be medically corrected. This type of hearing loss usually results from repeated exposure to loud sounds over an extended time, like when using a tractor or riding a mower without ear protection.
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Most farmers have some degree of hearing loss, said Bedford County farmer and nurse practitioner Amy Johnson, who also serves as president of the Bedford County Farm Bureau. Hearing loss is related to both the intensity of sounds and length of exposure, she said in a safety webinar. Commonly used equipment like grain dryers and chainsaws reach unsafe decibels.
Prolonged loud sound exposure may result in a “stopped-up” feeling or ringing in the ears that eventually fades. But that’s a bad sign.
“Once the damage is done to those organs that affect hearing, you really can’t undo that,” Johnson explained.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, may become constant.
“The effects of living with chronic tinnitus can range from annoying to completely debilitating,” wrote Jackie DiFrancesco for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Every year, about 22 million U.S. workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise — one of the most common occupational injuries.
Hearing loss is usually gradual and may go unnoticed for several years, according to AgriSafe, a collective formed by rural nurses to improve the health and safety of farmers. It affects not only older adults, but also young adults and teens.
Key indicators of hearing loss include frequently asking people to repeat things; continually turning up the volume on electronics; tinnitus; difficulty with hearing and understanding conversations in busy areas; and noticing that common environmental noises sound distant or quieter.
Fortunately, damage is preventable. Hearing protection devices reduce the force of the sound waves reaching the inner ear. The best HPD is one that fits well and is comfortable enough to wear consistently in high-noise environments.
There are three main types of HPD: formable ear plugs made of soft foam that must be rolled down to be inserted and then expand to block the ear canal; push-in ear plugs; and earmuff-style devices.