Most people will find it easier to hear with hearing aids by the time they’re 60, but studies show farmers are affected by hearing loss an average of 10 to 15 years earlier than the rest of us. The statistics are even higher for labourers, tradespeople and mine workers.
Why do farmers and miners have such a high rate of hearing loss?
It’s normal to suffer a degree of hearing loss as we age, but overly loud occupational noise is a common culprit of accelerated hearing loss.
It’s only fairly recently that people have understood how important it is to use adequate hearing protection, when working in the presence of machinery noise, and still not everyone uses it all the time. Every time you are exposed to loud noise you damage the cells and nerve endings in your ear a little bit more. It may not be noticeable at first. You may even think that it’s temporary, but we now know that it’s not.
Farmers and miners are in constant use of heavy machinery, and the statistics say that only 18 percent of farmers use hearing protection when operating agricultural machinery, such as tractors.
Do farmers wait the industry average seven years to seek help, or does their early decline lead them to seek help sooner?
An American study showed that while 78 percent of farmers believe they have hearing loss, only 4 percent have purchased hearing aids. This is reflected in earlier Swedish studies.
What sort of things are they missing out on?
Being able to hear properly is essential for farmers and people working in construction or mining sites, in order to avoid injuring themselves or their coworkers.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to depression. Farmers in particular are already high risk. Sadly, many people become reclusive rather than seeking help for the sounds and moments they’re missing.
Good hearing is essential for staying social and being able to communicate effectively with those around us. High frequencies, like bird song and female and children’s voices are often the first to go. You may have difficulty hearing your spouse, children or grandchildren.
Many people with hearing loss adopt coping strategies to fill in the gaps. Overtime, they forget what life was like in high definition. Many people with hearing loss don’t realise that they’re missing out on sounds like the click of the keyboard, the rustling of paper, the sound of footsteps or the nuances of their own voice. People forget how much these textures enrich our lives.
As time goes on it gets harder and harder to fake it through each day. Hearing in background noise becomes very difficult and you begin to rely on lip reading. At this point, people either withdraw or decide to act.
Why don’t more farmers seek help for their hearing?
There’s a number of barriers. In general, there’s a self-stigma and embarrassment that comes with the idea of hearing aids that doesn’t really make sense. It’s a lot more obvious that you’re wearing glasses than wearing hearing aids, but there isn’t really a stigma behind wearing glasses. As that’s overcome, the high costs of quality hearing aids can put people off. Sometimes, people have a bad one-off experience with hearing aids and they discard them in the drawer.
Farmers and miners are generally out in rural and regional communities, and so the foremost issue they face is distance from good hearing service providers. People may go undiagnosed for a long time, in part because many rural health professionals aren’t schooled in hearing education and awareness.
So, what’s the answer?
Steps need to be taken to ensure rural health professionals know how to identify hearing loss and advise a best course of action.
Tele-audiology is a great solution for rural and regional residents with hearing loss. Rather than travel hours out to the big cities, they can access the help they need over the phone or internet.
Blamey Saunders has developed a highly accurate online screening test that can be done on your computer in the comfort of your own home. It’s linked to our own tele-audiology service which involves first taking the test, then ordering hearing aids online, and then setting up your hearing aids on your own computer or with the help of a Blamey Saunders professional.
Doing it this way allows us to provide our high quality hearing solutions at less than a third of comparable products.
My advice for people with occupations that leave them at risk
It’s crucial that people know how to identify and reduce noise hazards in their workplace as – like anything, prevention is key. If you do have to work in a noisy environment, then use the right hearing protection.
It’s also important to test your hearing regularly because if treatment is left too late you may lose your ability to comprehend and interpret particular sounds and it can become more difficult to get back to good hearing.