When thinking about the profession of preschool teaching, we might associate it with a lot of singing, a minute or two of napping, giggles and a lot of stress. However, along with these other factors, preschool teachers may actually also be at a higher risk for developing hearing loss. Shockingly, a recent study out of London found that about 7 out of 10 participating preschool teachers experienced some degree of hearing related symptoms in one or both of their ears. Along with hearing loss, these preschool teachers also experienced physical pain when listening to some noise, auditory fatigue and tinnitus.
Preschool Teachers and Hearing Loss: The study.
The study was conducted by Sahlgrenska Academy Institute of Medicine, out of London, UK. The researchers noted that a myriad of research exists on noise hazards in industrial working conditions – where most of the employees were men. Therefore, the goal of the research was to determine hearing-related occupational hazards for women specifically, especially women working in more female-dominated care industries. The two occupations the researchers focused were obstetrical care and preschool teaching.
The researchers found that the preschool classrooms operated at about 75-85dBA throughout the day. Of the 4,718 female preschool teachers who participated in the study, 71% reported auditory fatigue interfering with their daily life, 46% had difficulty understanding speech and 39% experienced discomfort or physical pain when listening to everyday noises – termed hyperacusis (https://gulfnews.com/news/asia/india/7-out-of-10-preschool-teachers-have-hearing-problems-1.2242593). Compared to the female population in general, preschool teachers experienced a more than two-fold risk of auditory fatigue, difficulty understanding speech, and hyperacusis. Preschool teachers also reported these symptoms earlier in their life than women in the general population or those working in other stressful environments that were quieter than 75dBA (https://gupea.ub.gu.se/handle/2077/55969).
Preschool Teachers and Hearing Loss: What we can do.
The researchers also found that almost none of the teachers wore any hearing protection throughout their workday. One of the researchers, Sofie Fredriksson said of the findings, “we have an occupational group with much higher risk for these symptoms, and if nothing is done about it, it’s really alarming. We have to lower sound levels, have a calmer preschool” (https://gulfnews.com/news/asia/india/7-out-of-10-preschool-teachers-have-hearing-problems-1.2242593).
Fredriksson noted that hearing protection is normally the first line of defense for those working in noisier occupations, however, this is not always a plausible solution for preschool teachers due to the communicative nature of their work. She suggested that other intervention measures be taken to protect preschool teachers, such as the design of the room and the physical acoustics. “In a large room with solid walls, it becomes noisy no matter how educational and strategic you are in your work,” she added (https://gulfnews.com/news/asia/india/7-out-of-10-preschool-teachers-have-hearing-problems-1.2242593). One thing is certain. As a society, we need to take more protective measures to ensure our preschool teachers are also working in a safe environment. Noise protection should be taken as seriously for preschool teachers as it is for construction workers.
I Teach, What Can I do to Protect my Hearing?
If you or someone you love is a preschool teacher, there are some options to protect your hearing.
- Talk to your administration. Its no secret that educators do not always get the tools they need to be successful – and hearing protection is no exception, however, it is a good idea to talk to your administrator so they are aware of the potential risks. Remind them that there are legal protections that employers must follow to help ensure employees work in a hearing healthy workplace.
- Try to implement quiet time. “Quiet time” and “preschool” may feel like an oxymoron at times, however, it is important for teachers to not only give their ears a break from the chaos, but for their students’ ears as well. Try to get a class set donation of hearing protective headphones from the schools Occupational Therapist or a home goods store. Having yourself and your students wear this hearing protection during silent reading or other quiet time may be a fun way to give the whole class a little peace.
- Take time for yourself. There is only so much you can control inside your classroom, so it is important to consider your hearing health in your every day life as well. Try to limit your exposure to noisy leisure activities, and limit the time you spend listening to music on your personal listening device.
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