Traditional hearing conservation programs are based on the premise that noise dose, as measured by the time-weighted average noise level, is the primary risk factor associated with occupational hearing loss and that permanent threshold shifts are the most relevant outcome measures for determining when a noise-related hearing loss has occurred. However, recent studies in animal models have suggested that significant neurological damage to the hearing system can occur from noise exposures even when they are not severe enough to result in permanent threshold shifts. This has led to a number of studies attempting to relate subjective measures of noise exposure to subjective measures of hearing difficulty and suprathreshold measures of hearing performance (e.g., speech-in-noise tests). In this study, 3,330 U.S. service members volunteered to complete a survey on noise exposure, subjective hearing complaints, and tinnitus in conjunction with their annual hearing tests. Two questions were also included about the frequency and duration of temporary hearing losses that may have been experienced by the service member. The results show that subjective reports of temporary threshold shifts were substantially more predictive of tinnitus and other hearing complaints than more traditional questions based on the frequency of noise exposure.
- noise exposure
- temporary threshold shift