High levels of noise and car exhaust hazardous to hearing

Noise is hazardous to the ears and may cause hearing loss. But a mixture of loud noise and carbon monoxide from smokestacks and car exhausts is an even more potent cocktail carrying increased risk of hearing loss over time.

Welders, fire fighters, garage mechanics, truckers, forklift operators and miners are among the most exposed groups, according to a Canadian study among 8,600 workers.

Based on data gathered by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the researchers compared the hearing of workers exposed to noise levels lower than 90 decibels for 8 hours to another group of workers exposed to noise levels above 90 decibels. In both groups, a sample of workers was also exposed to carbon monoxide.

The Université de Montréal researchers demonstrated that workers who were exposed to carbon monoxide and noise levels above 90 decibels displayed significantly poorer hearing thresholds at high frequencies (from 3 to 6 kiloHertz).

Lower oxygen levels in the blood

The damaging effects from carbon monoxide, however, manifest themselves only after many years of working in noisy surroundings.

”In our study we saw that it took at least 15 years to start showing this increase in hearing loss. The effect increases with the number of years of exposure,” Adriana Lacerda of the research group told the canada.com News web site.

One of several hypotheses to explain this phenomenon is that the reduction of oxygen in the blood stream caused by carbon monoxide accelerates the deterioration of the sensory cells of the inner ear, Lacerda explained.

“Based on these results, we recommend that such risks as chronic exposure to carbon monoxide be considered when assessing the risk of developing a noise-induced hearing loss,” stated Lacerda in a press release issued by the university.

Source: Université de Montréal, press release, May 16, 2005

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