High levels of occupational noise exposure increase the risk of hearing difficulties and tinnitus. However, differences in demographic, health, and lifestyle factors could also contribute to high levels of hearing difficulties and tinnitus in some industries. Data from a subsample (n = 22,936) of the U.K. Biobank were analyzed to determine to what extent differences in levels of hearing difficulties and tinnitus in high-risk industries (construction, agricultural, and music) compared with low-risk industries (finance) could be attributable to demographic, health, and lifestyle factors, rather than occupational noise exposure. Hearing difficulties were identified using a digits-in-noise speech recognition test. Tinnitus was identified based on self-report. Logistic regression analyses showed that occupational noise exposure partially accounted for higher levels of hearing difficulties in the agricultural industry compared with finance, and occupational noise exposure, older age, low socioeconomic status, and non-White ethnic background partially accounted for higher levels of hearing difficulties in the construction industry. However, the factors assessed in the model did not fully account for the increased likelihood of hearing difficulties in high-risk industries, suggesting that there are additional unknown factors which impact on hearing or that there was insufficient measurement of factors included in the model. The levels of tinnitus were greatest for music and construction industries compared with finance, and these differences were accounted for by occupational and music noise exposure, as well as older age. These findings emphasize the need to promote hearing conservation in occupational and music settings, with a particular focus on high-risk demographic subgroups.
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- hearing difficulties
- noise exposure