By Neil Sikora
In looking back over a 30+ year career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, many things stand out in my mind. One of the biggest is that due to the nature of the work, there was a big emphasis on employee health and safety.
For most of my career, I supported an area in the plant that has extremely high noise levels. My employer instructed us about using proper hearing protection and provided us with various approved earplugs and earmuffs. At those early days of my career, I remember many of our older plant workers were hard of hearing, and wondered why they did not use hearing protection. It was only later that I learned that much the hearing conservation program was developed after they had spent many years working in the plant.
In addition to monitoring the noise levels in the production area, I also received a regular hearing test. As my employer’s dynamics changed, the hearing testing program determined that since my job only involved brief, irregular times in the noisy area of the plant and not long durations in that area, I no longer met the criteria to be in the hearing testing program.
Over the course of the next 20+ years, I tried to follow the hearing protection guidelines that my employer taught at work, even when at home where I would always wear hearing protection when using power equipment like a leaf blower and even when flying in an airplane. I didn’t notice any hearing problems over the years but did not seek out a hearing test either. Occasionally, I would listen to loud music, but the length of time listening at that volume was relatively short. I could hear and enjoy the quiet sounds of nature walk or the quiet parts of a classical music piece.
It has only been in the past 2 years that I noticed that I was having trouble with my hearing. A new, young, employee joined the area and it was during our break times in the large cafeteria (with background noise), that I noticed I was having trouble hearing him. I did not have any problem hearing him in the quiet office area, and I could hear the other employees at our table in the cafeteria, but it alerted me that my hearing must have changed.
In thinking back to my childhood, I remembered that certain relatives always had trouble hearing certain people’s voices. Those relatives would have been about my current age, so I made the connection that I was likely having the same change in my hearing now that I was that age.
Since I was not eligible for a hearing test at work, I sought out an appointment at Constance Brown Hearing Centers. I am familiar with the organization through my involvement with the Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo, and when my mother passed away, I brought her hearing aids and batteries to Constance Brown so they could be of some benefit to others, but had never had a hearing test there.
I easily secured an appointment for a hearing test and was pleasantly surprised how simple the whole process was. Since I had no baseline testing to compare the results, it could only be determined that my hearing was in the normal range for my age. Greatly relieved, I am following the audiologist’s recommendations about regular hearing tests in the future and keeping vigilant about my hearing protection. Regular hearing testing would seem to be preventative care and/or diagnostic care to me. Fortunately, the hearing test’s cost was quite reasonable and the staff is wonderful so it is something I will repeat in the future, and recommend to others.
Since completing the testing, I have retired from my job, and the extra time has allowed me to visit various venues to listen to a wide variety of live music. One of the first things I noticed was how loud the music can be when amplified. I immediately started taking earplugs with me when going to listen to live music, and I even keep a set in my car so I always have them available. When talking with other people at these events, I notice that many of them, especially musicians, will use earplugs.
When given the opportunity, I let the venue owners know that they should lower the volume, and consider providing earplugs to anyone in attendance. I can only imagine what my hearing would be like if I did not work for an employer who stressed the importance of hearing protection for the many years of my career. However, I also know that it is up to each person to take the information to heart and implement it. We need to take it home and share it with all members of our families. The rampant use of earbuds and earphones now can only lead to an increase in hearing loss without taking precautions over the long term, since prevention is the best thing when it comes to keeping your hearing. From my perspective, my continued diligence has maintained my hearing in spite of my work environment and the various assaults on my ears at home and at play. It is hard to imagine what your life will be like in 30 years, but good hearing should be a part of it. Be diligent about hearing protection every day so it will be there when you want it.