A study conducted by the School of Nursing at the University of Michigan is looking into hearing loss among farmers and farm workers.
UM associate professor Marjorie McCullagh is hoping that her research project, HEAR on the Farm, will farmers recognize risks and wear hearing protection.
Noise-induced hearing loss is particularly devastating because it's irreversible, and hearing aids and surgery do not help, according to a release from the university. Farmers are extremely vulnerable because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't regulate noise exposure on farms. Scientific findings regarding the prevalence of hearing loss among the estimated 1.3 million farmers nationwide vary greatly, with numbers ranging from 17 percent all the way to 72 percent.
Most farmers do not avail themselves of hearing protection but do want to learn more about it, McCullagh said. The fact that 90 percent of farmers enrolled in her study are still participating supports this, especially when researchers consider retention rates of 30-to-50 percent highly successful.
"There are no systems in place to help them," McCullagh said. "The farmers are expected to do that on their own."
McCullagh and Michael Cohen, clinical research coordinator, traveled separately to different parts of the country to recruit participants.
Breuninger, a fourth-generation farmer in Dexter, Michigan, was one of 500 study participants nationwide. He said he has worn hearing protection intermittently and now suffers some hearing loss. "I probably didn't wear it as religiously as I do now," said Breuninger, whose 80-year-old father, also a farmer, suffers profound hearing loss. "I do worry about my hearing, and I've always tried to impress upon my kids the importance of wearing hearing protection."
Breuninger noted that, formerly, he was accustomed to sitting on his tractor for 8 to 10 hours per day. Since tractors did not have cabins, the noise from the tractor engine was especially harmful to his right ear since he normally cocked his head to towards the muffler while ensuring that his tractor was on the right track.