Firefighters are exposed to loud noises that put them at greater risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss when compared to the rest of the population. Potentially damaging noises include sirens, alarms, communication equipment, ventilation fans, and pneumatic tools. Additionally, firefighters are exposed to chemicals and combustion byproducts that have potentially ototoxic effects that can exacerbate the onset of hearing loss. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that “fire fighters who are repeatedly exposed to high noise levels risk developing work-related hearing loss.”
Firefighters often underestimate the extent of their hearing loss, experiencing inconvenience only in asking others to repeat themselves. But timely addressing hearing loss is important, as failure to do so could lead to potential neurological consequences. For example, when someone suffers from hearing loss he devotes more cognitive resources to understanding speech and fewer intellectual resources to encoding what is heard to memory. In other words, someone with hearing loss has to work harder to understand what is being said instead of comprehending and remembering the information received. Working harder to hear, otherwise known as “effortful listening,” is linked to “increased stress responses, changes in pupil dilation, and poorer behavioral performance . . . .” Unfortunately, someone who exhibits symptoms of mild-to-moderate hearing loss may be incorrectly perceived by others as experiencing cognitive decline. Addressing hearing loss not only makes it easier to communicate, but also preserves an individual’s ability to cognitively process sound and retain information.
Another form of hearing damage is tinnitus, which is defined as “the perception of noise or ringing in the ears” caused by an underlying condition. Tinnitus is often age-related, may result from an ear injury, or from a circulatory disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, manifestation of tinnitus could resemble any of the following: ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming. Pertinent to the job duties of a firefighter, tinnitus can be caused by exposure to the sounds emitted from heavy equipment, such as chain saws, engines, sirens, or helicopters, in addition to exposure to loud noises for extended periods of time—e.g., sirens and engines typically encountered over the course of a firefighter’s career.Tinnitus can have significant impact on one’s life and may result in fatigue, stress, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, depression, anxiety, and irritability.
Hearing aids can be expensive, but may be the financial responsibility of your employer under the framework provided by the California Workers’ Compensation system. A qualified Workers’ Compensation Attorney can assist with obtaining medical treatment for hearing issues.