One in five is affected by tinnitus – is it interfering with your work?

Photo of Holger Reisinger
November 15, 2016
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3 minutes

Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the ears that affects one out of every five adults. It’s more than just an annoyance; it can affect your performance at job.

Can you hear it?

That ringing in your ears. Or maybe it’s a buzzing, hissing, roaring or clicking sound….

Noises in your ears may be the telltale signs of tinnitus, a medical condition that affects more than 20% of the adult population.

Tinnitus is often a symptom of an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, a head or neck injury, disease, stress or a circulatory system disorder. But the most common cause is exposure to noise.

In extreme cases, tinnitus can be so severe that it interferes with our ability to concentrate or hear actual sounds. It may be present all the time, or come and go at random.

People who work in noisy environments – such as factory- and construction workers, musicians and airport ground crews – are particularly at risk. Employees who work in crowded office spaces or use the phone as their primary tool for delivering a service can be prone to tinnitus because of repeated exposure to loud sounds, often from using low-end headsets that doesn’t adhere to noise-at-work regulations.

For some of these workers; traders, brokers, key-account managers, real estate agents, EMS operators and others who spend significant time on the phone, tinnitus can affect their ability to hear and converse. That’s critical because they often handle up to 25 calls and spend as much as 3.6 hours per day on the phone. Not surprisingly, a recent study found that the most productive of these employees, 40% experience a lower level of tinnitus than the less-productive ones.

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Preventing Tinnitus

In many cases, tinnitus is the result of a disorder that can’t be prevented. However, some precautions can help prevent some kinds of tinnitus:

  • Use hearing protection.The most common cause of tinnitus is inner ear cell damage. This occurs when tiny, delicate hairs in the inner ear that transmit signals to the brain are damaged from prolonged exposure to sound or excessively loud noises. If you work in a loud environment, be sure to wear over-the-ear hearing protection. If you spend time on the phone as part of your job, use noise-at-work-compliant headsets that provide protection from sudden, high-pitched or loud noises.
  • Reduce the volume and exposure. Long-term exposure to loud music without ear protection or listening to music at a high volume through headphones can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. So turn down the volume or reduce the time you spend listening to loud music.
  • Take care of your health. Circulatory system disorders can cause tinnitus. Frequent exercise, healthy eating habits, reducing stress and taking other steps to keep your body healthy can help prevent tinnitus linked to blood vessel disorders.

Treating Tinnitus

If you have tinnitus, you probably also have some degree of hearing loss; 80-85% of people with tinnitus do.

In fact, hearing loss may affect the signals sent from the ear to the brain. Those signals are then bounced back as the sound known as tinnitus. While tinnitus doesn’t cause hearing loss, the perceived sound can be distracting and make it hard to concentrate on other sounds. That’s why hearing aids can be an effective way to treat tinnitus as well as hearing loss.

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Sensing something is not right, the first thing you want to do is; see your doctor. He or she will examine your ears, head and neck and perform a hearing exam to search for possible causes. Keep in mind that in many cases, however, your doctor may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause.

On the other hand, your doctor may be able to prescribe a hearing aid that may help treat tinnitus, but likely will not cure it, although treating an identified underlying cause often helps. The right hearing aid may reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.

That ringing in your ears may be tinnitus, and it may be affecting your productivity at work. There’s only one way to find out: See your doctor.

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