Research shows that the typical noise environment in schools puts teachers at an increased risk of hearing loss.
Noisy gymnasiums, excited classroom chatter, bells ringing, lockers slamming shut – it all adds up to the potential for noise-induced hearing loss in the workplace for today’s educators. Traditionally, such studies have looked at professions in the construction, manufacturing and industrial worlds, but it does make sense that teachers would be exposed to excessive noise levels over the course of the school day. In fact, a greater percentage of teachers report diagnosed hearing loss than in other professions.
Sounds above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss (a lawnmower is 90 decibels, while a typical conversation is 60 decibels). A crowded gymnasium can easily exceed 90 decibels, so repeated exposure to that sound level could be particularly dangerous for music and physical education teachers, as well as those who work in athletics.
A study conducted by the Danish Centre of Educational Environment learned that 26% of educators under the age of 40 report hearing problems, compared to 17% of those in other careers. The 9% higher rate may indicate that the constant exposure to noise in the gym, cafeteria, hallways and classroom does have a role in occupational hearing loss.
This type of hearing loss can often be accompanied by tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears. This effect can make it more difficult to hear what students are saying – more than half of the study’s participants admit they have to ask others to repeat what they said or feeling stressed during long listening periods.
Even when the hearing loss is detected early, about 30% of education professionals report they do not seek treatment. Why? They report concerns over negative job stigmas and cost – less than 20% reported having health insurance that covers hearing healthcare, while vision and dental coverage was close to 60%.
The good news is that as these workplace dangers gain more attention, more retired teaching associations’ insurance plans now include hearing healthcare coverage or supplemental coverage that will help cover hearing aid costs.