One danger on the acreage we don't often think about until it is too late: our HEARING.
Hearing Loss in Nebraska
Acreage owners, farmers and ranchers are frequently exposed to hazardous noise levels that can cause significant hearing loss, but noise-related hearing loss can affect anyone. The key to preventing or lessening hearing damage is early awareness and protective actions. Approximately 10-12% of the U.S. population experiences some sort of hearing difficulties. In Nebraska, that number jumps to 78% of the agricultural population that have a measurably reduced capacity to hear, according to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. This hearing loss does not know any age boundaries - everyone is equally susceptible.
Preventing Hearing Loss
Hearing is a very valuable asset and hearing loss from exposure to excessive noise is the only type of hearing loss that is 100% preventable. By following the necessary precautions, an individual does not need to experience hearing loss as a result of noise exposure.
There are two variables which contribute to hearing loss. The first is the volume of the noise; the second is the duration of the noise. The longer and louder a noise is, the greater the chance of developing hearing loss at a higher rate. When a person is exposed to a noise they may experience a ringing or muffled sound; which can return to normal in a few hours or days. Repeated noise exposure may cause the destruction of the thousands of hair cells in the inner ear.
According to OSHA, when a sound reaches 85-90 dB (decibels) it is becoming excessive and hearing protection is recommended. To put this into perspective, an idling tractor has an average decibel level of 80 dB and a riding lawn mower averages 90dB. ATVs range in sound levels from 91-100 dB, while power tools and woodshop noise averages 100 dB. A gas power grass trimmer and chainsaw averages 105-110 dB and a snowmobile averages 120 dB.
Negative Effects of Hearing Loss
The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association says that noise and hearing loss can have other negative effects on a person, which may include: stress, increased blood pressure, fatigue, irritability, tension, and difficulty sleeping just to name a few. A study also indicated that farmers, who had difficulties hearing normal conversations, were 80% more likely to be involved in a farming accident.
The best advice: wear proper ear protection when you know you will be exposed to loud noises. If you think you may be experiencing hearing loss you should make an appointment with an audiologist. He or she can determine if you have hearing loss or if hearing loss will be something you develop in the future. It is also important to note, that just because you have hearing loss now, it does not mean you cannot preserve what hearing is left. Wearing protective devices will help to preserve what hearing is left.
Tips to keep your hearing on the acreage:
- Make hearing protection convenient. Keep earplugs near your wallet or keys. Hang ear muffs on your tractor steering wheel, ATV, and lawn mower
- Keep machinery and equipment well lubricated to reduce noise
- Take breaks from noisy environments throughout the day
- Limit the duration of elevated noise exposure
- Doubling the distance between the source of the sound and the listener reduces the sound level heard to ¼ of what it was at the listener's original position
Signs you might have hearing loss:
- Asking for frequent repetition
- Have more difficulty following a conversation with background noise
- Thinking others sound like they are mumbling
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
- Watching people when they speak to you
The Acreage Team would like to acknowledge former Extension Educator Lindsey Chichester for the original version of this article.