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Coping With Tinnitus In The Workplace

For millions of people around the world, work is a place of accomplishment, social interaction, and even self-identity. Our jobs contribute to who we are as people and affect our day to day lives, hopefully for the better. But for 32% of Americans struggling with varying degrees of tinnitus, their time in the workplace can be negatively affected by this common condition. According to a 2018 Tinnitus Hub survey, tinnitus is affecting more employees and their jobs than ever, drawing attention to an often overlooked problem and the massive economic impact tinnitus can have on your paycheck and health.

38% Of Respondents Are Struggling

Analyzing the data received from 1,800 respondents, the Tinnitus Hub survey had found that 38% of those who answered reported tinnitus has negatively affected their work prospects. Over 17% had reported that their tinnitus has stopped them from pursuing career progression, while 11% reported that they are struggling and thinking about giving up employment altogether. Most alarming, over 9% had said they have stopped working due to their tinnitus. Unfortunately, these numbers highlight the physical and mental barriers that many face in the workplace, making it harder to be productive or pursue new opportunities. Regrettably, these numbers are not surprising. Research has linked tinnitus to depression, anxiety, and mental health complications, with over 33% reporting severe depression associated with their tinnitus in some studies.

How Tinnitus Can Affect You At Work

There are multiple complications stemming from tinnitus that many of us face, including fatigue, depression, and anxiety. However, according to the Tinnitus Hub survey, respondents reported that difficulties with concentration were the biggest problems affecting them in the workplace. Survey participants reported that tinnitus negatively impacted their concentration mildly (41%), moderately (33%), and even severely (20%), with only a small minority reporting no concentration issues. Though tinnitus can cause fatigue, this trouble in concentration differs from listening fatigue that those with hearing loss experience. The constant ringing from tinnitus requires the brain to force the bothersome buzzing into the background, allowing other sounds and actions to be focused on instead. When one has to consistently block out sounds to concentrate on simple tasks, it can be difficult to focus on duties or be hopeful about future job prospects.

Work Environments May Contribute To The Problem

For some, their work environment may actually contribute to their tinnitus symptoms. Certain professions expose workers to dangerous volumes that may exacerbate or even cause tinnitus. Construction, manufacturing, and military service can expose workers to volumes exceeding 85 decibels, which can be harmful to your hearing health, but even environments with lower volumes can be detrimental. Those suffering from tinnitus often struggle with hyperacusis, a debilitating condition that makes patients hypersensitive to even typical levels of sound, like an office environment or phone calls. This can cause ear pain or spikes in tinnitus, making it difficult to perform or concentrate in common work environments.
If you are struggling with tinnitus in the workplace, seek out medical advice from a hearing health professional about treatment options and tips on how to cope. Sometimes, your tinnitus symptoms can be eased by changing medications or with assistive listening devices. Don’t lose hope when it comes to achieving your professional goals.

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Disclosing Your Hearing Loss To Your Employer

Hearing loss is a concern in the workplace. Estimates suggest that 60% of workers in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss, and there is a tremendous need for education and services to address this growing problem. If you have a hearing loss, the first step you can take is to inform your employer about your hearing loss.

When to Discuss Your Hearing Loss

All employers in the U.S. must provide accommodations for workers with hearing loss per the law. Even so, hearing loss remains a barrier for applicants and workers who have difficulty with communication. A recent survey is considering when is the best time for an employee to discuss their hearing loss with their employer. The responses vary:

  • 11% say during the job application process
  • 33% think disclosure during the job interview is best
  • 14% of the respondents feel like it is appropriate upon receipt of the job offer
  • Only 3% believe the first day of the job is appropriate
  • In the first few months of the job say 12%
  • 5% think you should never reveal the hearing loss

22% of the people responding indicate that hearing loss disclosure is appropriate if it interferes with their job duties.

Disclosing Your Hearing Loss

Managing a hearing loss at work is challenging. Research shows that it is best to inform others of your hearing loss. When the subject of hearing loss arises, those with hearing loss tend to respond in different ways. Some people are forthright about their hearing loss and have no problem discussing it in detail. Some employees prefer not to talk about their hearing loss and continuously ask others to repeat themselves or speak up. Finally, some workers are willing to disclose their hearing loss and propose a communication strategy before beginning a conversation.
There are multiple ways for employees with hearing loss to handle it at work. Most researchers suggest a multi-disclosure approach that involves letting others know of your hearing loss. The co-workers will respond by speaking clearly and slowly, and it lets others know that your hearing loss does not define you.

Accommodations

When you disclose your hearing loss, there are accommodations you can request to make your work environment more accommodating.

  • Work area. When discussing hearing loss with your employer, make it clear that you wish to be as productive as possible.
  • Assistive listening devices (ALDs) are an option. Determine which system works best for you, check the price, and have your employer purchase one.
  • Telephones. You are permitted to have a hearing aid compatible (HAC) telephone at your place of work. You are also entitled to a captioned telephone service.
  • Emergency notification systems. Lights on fire alarms, vibrating pagers, and other emergency assistive devices should be put into place when you accept your new job.

If you are having challenges with your hearing, take the necessary steps to have the proper accommodations put into place. Everyone should get a hearing evaluation from a hearing healthcare professional regularly to diagnose a possible hearing loss and receive treatment.