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More than a quarter of Australian workers have ringing in the ears: study

Photo: andresr/iStockphoto

Perth, Australia — Around 1 out of 4 Australian workers experience ringing in the ears – called tinnitus – and those in the construction, automotive, transportation and agricultural industries may be at higher risk, results of a recent study suggest.

Australian and Norwegian researchers analyzed data from the Australian Workplace Exposure Survey – Hearing, examining responses from nearly 5,000 adult workers contacted between June 2016 and March 2017. They found that 26.5% of respondents reported experiencing tinnitus, which causes an individual to perceive sound in one or both ears even though no external source of that sound exists. Of that group, 6.9% have constant tinnitus, which the researchers believe translates to be more than half a million people countrywide.

After adjusting for occupation, the researchers estimate the prevalence of constant tinnitus is highest among automotive workers (16.7%), drivers (13%), farmers (12.1%) and workers in other trades (10.4%).

Additionally, male workers ages 55-64 “were most likely to suffer from constant tinnitus,” Kate Lewkowski, lead study author and audiologist at the Curtin University School of Population Health, said in a press release.


Lewkowski and her colleagues say that “workplace practices and conditions that increase the risk of tinnitus should be examined, and targeted workplace prevention strategies developed.”

However, co-author and Curtin School of Population Health distinguished professor Lin Fritschi and her fellow researchers suggest chemical exposure may also play a role. Fritschi used the transportation industry as an example.

“As drivers are not usually exposed to the same levels of loud noise as some other workers, it is interesting that this workforce has a high prevalence of tinnitus,” she said in the release. “One theory is that other workplace exposures, such as carbon monoxide in vehicle exhaust, may be contributing to the risk.

“While there is a documented link between hazardous noise exposure and tinnitus, the role workplace chemicals play in the development of tinnitus requires further detailed examination.”

The study was published in the March issue of the Medical Journal of Australia.

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