Firefighters 19% more likely to suffer from hearing loss

Hearing loss becomes significant in our 50s, but studies show we don’t want to admit it. It affects 3.6 million Australians – a figure that’s set to double by 2060.[1] Between 50-59, men with hearing issues spikes to four times the rate, while numbers double for women (from the previous decade).

According to an American study, 34% of police officers were found to have hearing loss, compared to 15% for the general public.[2] Whether it’s rushing into burning buildings or controlling a large, unruly crowd, emergency workers put their lives (and hearing) on the line, every day.

Noise exposure: An overlooked danger of the job

Instances or prolonged exposure to extreme noise can lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is mostly attributed to occupational-related noise. Emergency services roles, for example.

Two other causes of hearing loss that are directly related to emergency work include drug use and physical trauma. Hearing loss can occur as a result of injuries to the ear itself or to the brain. If a police officer or emergency worker is involved in an altercation, breaking up a fight or handling someone who is under the influence, there’s a greater risk of physical injuries.

Further to this, the psychological impact of the daily exposure to trauma, death and interactions with law-breaking citizens can lead officers to ‘self-medicate’ through drugs and alcohol.

Firefighters, cover your ears

Ongoing interactions with sounds above 85 decibels are dangerous to ears. Yet, this an every-day occurrence in the life of an emergency worker. Facing sirens, radios, equipment to access buildings, loud crowds, screaming people and gunfire, hearing ability is crucial for emergency support, where visibility is compromised.

Given the high probability that emergency workers will experience dangerous levels of noise, every time they work, it’s important for staff to be proactive about ear health. Hearing loss is cumulative, worsening over time. While it’s not possible to prevent loud emergency situations, first responders can focus on minimising the effects of constant exposure to obtrusive sound.

That’s where Emergency Services Health come in. Members have access to speech therapy and implantation of hearing devices (subject to waiting periods and other conditions). Always use ear plugs where possible, embrace silence and relaxation techniques at home, and avoid medications that may be harmful to the ears.

Get your hearing tested yearly. Your livelihood (and lives) relies on it.

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We understand the demands of front line work more than any other insurer. After all, we've been looking after the health and wellbeing of the police community for more than 85 years. Whether you're already a member or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits. We're here to help. 

Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.