Farmer hearing loss reviewed

By Stephan L. Lopes

NIU faculty member James Lankford, through research funded jointly by Mobil Ear, EAR division of Cabot Corp. and NIU, has discovered and isolated some of the causes of hearing loss in farmers.

Lankford and his staff tested 576 farmers in three days at the 1989 Farm Progress show. The show was held in Rocester, Indiana.

The farmers tested were from age 19 to 89. Along with a normal deterioration of hearing due to age, Lankford found farmers to have an abnormal loss in the left ear. Lankford found the loss to be even greater for the older farmers.

Lankford explained how farmers using machinery traditionally have looked over their right shoulders to view the implements behind. This makes the farmer’s left ear more exposed to the noise generating portion of the vehicle.

Lankford said most of the farmer’s vehicles have doors on them now. He said he believes this accounts for the younger farmers not having as much damage in their left ears. However, he added many farmers either remove the doors or the doors are not well insulated so the younger farmers still receive more damage to their left ears.

“Everyone thinks the farm is quiet until you’ve worked on one,” said Lankford. At the 1988 Farm Progress Show, Lankford found 47 percent of the men tested to have “significant” hearing loss, compared to 18 percent of the women having hearing loss. Those tested came from 12 states and three different coutries.

“Somewhat shocking was that 54 percent of the group evaluated had never had a hearing test,” said Lankford. “Ninety percent said they would wear a hearing aid if they had a significant hearing loss, yet out of the group tested only four percent actually wore hearing aid systems.”

Lankford said only a small percentage of farmers wear hearing protection on a regular basis. Citing data gathered at this year’s Farm Progress Show, Lankford said 35 percent responded to wearing hearing protection “from time to time.” Of the 35 percent, only 20 pecent said they wear protection on a regular basis. This effectively means only seven percent of the farmers polled wear hearing protection regularly.

Lankford said he feels it is interesting how women are more likely to wear hearing protection. Of the women polled, 66 percent said they wear protection regularly. “Women, I think, are more health conscience,” Lankford said.

Women are instrumental in getting their husbands to wear hearing protection because “they are the health maintainers of the family,” said Lankford. Getting the message of hearing conservation across to women is one of Lankford’s goals.

The co-sponsors, Mobil Ear, Hoffman Estates, Illinois, provide testing and hearing conservation programs to industry. Cabot Corporation’s EAR division, another provider of funds for research, manufactures soft pliable ear plugs which are placed in the ear. At the 1989 Farm Progress Show, both companies were on hand for consultation, and EAR gave out their product free to those who attended.