Can you hear me now?

Untreated or undiscovered hearing problems can hinder driving ability.

Can you hear a car horn blaring in the right-hand lane, or a small child laughing? If not, then you may need to schedule a doctor appointment for a hearing test.

Federal regulations state that a driver must be able to hear a forced whisper in one ear, no less than five feet away. But recent research by the Office of Motor Carrier Research and Standards states that the “whisper test” may not be enough to catch hearing problems among truck drivers.

The research evaluated truck cab noise for both temporary and permanent hearing loss, and concluded that, while an acceptable level of conversation and hearing can be achieved most of the time, the noise level in a truck cab hinders drivers from being able to hear sounds that are crucial to safe driving. The study showed that CMV drivers might be hearing less than 50 percent of external warning signals, such as car horns. High noise levels can also contribute to poor job performance and affect psychological and physiological functions.

The University of Montreal study, using National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health data, also found that carbon monoxide exposure might contribute to hearing loss when combined with high levels of noise.

Though truck drivers are exposed to a high level of noise everyday, there are ways to treat and prevent hearing problems to avoid endangering yourself and others on the road. And if your hearing loss is not occupational, it could be caused by something else.

If you have hearing loss in one or both ears and are exposed to loud noises every day, your hearing loss is most likely occupational. Once hearing loss has occurred, it can’t be reversed, so make sure you wear earplugs when you are using heavy machinery or shooting firearms for recreation. You can’t wear earplugs while driving, so make sure you protect your ears when you aren’t on the road.

If you have a lot of earwax blockage, you could have ceruminosis, which can cause hearing loss. Have a doctor check your ears, but do not stick anything in your ear canal because you could damage the tissue. Ask your doctor about purchasing an earwax removal kit from your pharmacy.

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If your hearing loss has increased as you age, you may have ostosclerosis, which is hearing loss from aging and other factors. Schedule a hearing test, and be open to the possibility of using a hearing aid.

If you have gradual hearing loss on one side, you have an acoustic neuroma, which is a tumor on the hearing nerve. Seek medical advice.

If you have ringing in your ears and experience dizziness, nausea or vomiting, you may have Meniere’s disease or a more serious tumor. Some medicines can also cause ringing, so see your doctor.

If you are experiencing pain, hearing loss, fever, cold symptoms or a “fluid” sensation in your ear, it may be due to a flu or cold. Take cold medicine, but if the condition does not get better, see your doctor, because it may be fluid buildup.

Hearing loss is a part of life, but if you are a truck driver, it is crucial to have routine hearing tests. If your company relies only on the “whisper” test, ask to be tested with a pure-tone audiometric test or another exam that measures more than just the ability to hear a forced whisper. Encourage your company to implement stricter hearing regulations for their drivers, because the difference between a car horn and a whisper could be someone’s life.
—Rachel Telehany