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Noise exposure in pregnancy can increase
risk of childhood hearing loss.

Posted: 29th January 2016

 

DeafHear.ie Noise exposure in pregnancy can increase risk of childhood hearing loss

A recently published Swedish study investigating the effects of noise exposure during pregnancy has found that there is an association between environmental noise during pregnancy and childhood hearing loss.

The researchers concluded that pregnant women should not be exposed to high levels of noise at work. The risk of childhood hearing loss almost doubled for mothers who worked full–time and were exposed to high levels of noise at work.

Women in the Swedish Workforce

There are a high number of women in the workforce in Sweden, with almost three quarters of women of working age in employment during 2014. The authors knew that exposure to noise in the workplace causes hearing loss in adults, but very little is known about the effects of noise exposure on a fetus and subsequently, in childhood.

The focus of the study was to investigate if occupational exposure to noise during pregnancy was associated with hearing loss in children.

The researchers used a national database, the Medical Birth Register, to examine over 1.4million births from 1986–2008. The Register included information on maternal occupation.

The various occupations were grouped into three categories of noise exposure: less than 75dB (decibels); 75–84dB; and 85dB or over. The vast majority of women (79.2%) were in the low exposure group (<75dB), 20.4% were in the medium exposure group (75-84dB), while just 0.4% (5,906) were in the high exposure group (>85dB).

The most frequent jobs in the high risk group (over 85dB) were musicians (15%), carpenters and wood workers (15%), and butchers (12%).

Findings

The researchers were able to identify over 12,000 cases of childhood sensorineural hearing loss from the patient register. Other types of hearing loss, e.g. conductive, were excluded as their cause is not associated with noise exposure. Their analyses found that the more a pregnant woman was exposed to high levels of noise in work, the higher the risk of hearing loss.

 

for women in the high exposure group who worked full–time, the risk of their child having a hearing loss increased by over 80%

 

For women who worked part–time in the high exposure group compared to part–time workers in the low exposure group, the risk of their child having a hearing loss was increased by over 25%. For women in the high exposure group who worked full–time, the risk of their child having a hearing loss increased by over 80%. The authors conclude that this supported the hypothesis that occupational noise during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in childhood.

Advice

In Ireland their are clear guidelines for the protection of employees’ hearing in the workplace, and these are laid down by the Health and Safety Authority. Employees who work in noisy environments must be provided with appropriate hearing protection. However, while there are guidelines for the protection of pregnant mothers in the workplace, there are no guidelines for the protection of the hearing of their unborn children. DeafHear has contacted the Health and Safety Authority for comment.

In the meantime our advice to expectant mothers who may be exposed to excessive noise in either the workplace, the home, or in recreational environments such as nightclubs or concerts, is to take precautions to limit their exposure.

Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1509874
Maternal Occupational Exposure to Noise during Pregnancy and Hearing Dysfunction in Children: A Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study in Sweden. Jenny Selander, Maria Albin, Ulf Rosenhall, Lars Rylander, Marie Lewné, and Per Gustavsson.

 

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