Ringing bells, slamming lockers, loud announcements, chattering students – the classic sounds of back-to-school are not always music to the ears of today's teachers. Due to their cumulative noise exposure, teachers are at higher risk for hearing loss, yet many teachers are not seeking the hearing health care they need. Understanding that hearing loss is on the rise among working adults in general, EPIC Hearing Healthcare conducted a comprehensive national survey, which uncovered the scope of the problem for teachers specifically. It found that 15 percent of teachers have a diagnosed hearing problem (versus 12 percent of workers overall). It also found that younger teachers (ages 18-44) report diagnosed hearing problems at a higher rate than younger employees in general (26 percent versus 17 percent). This suggests that noise exposure from their occupation could be contributing to hearing loss at a younger age among teachers. Also alarming, it found that 27 percent of teachers suspect they have a hearing problem, but have not sought treatment.
"Unfortunately, our research shows that teachers are feeling the burden of their untreated hearing loss and report that it affects them on the job in multiple ways," said Brad Volkmer, president and CEO, EPIC Hearing Healthcare.
Of the teachers with suspected (but untreated) hearing loss identified in EPIC's survey, more than half say they often ask people to repeat what they said, one third say they often misunderstand what is being said, and one fourth say they frequently feel stressed or tired after having to talk or listen for extended periods.
A recent study by the Danish Centre of Educational Environment found that noisy indoor climates affect teachers' work days and result in lower job satisfaction, increased fatigue and tiredness and a lack of energy and motivation among the teachers.
"There are many reasons teachers may not be seeking treatment – ranging from putting if off because they view it as a sign of aging to financial concerns over the surprisingly high cost of hearing aids," said Volkmer. The National Institutes of Health reports that hearing aids cost on average about $1,500, but can be as high as $3,000-$5,000. "Our research also shows that teachers are more sensitive to potential work-place stigma – with more than half of teachers saying they would be concerned if their employer suspected or knew they had hearing loss."
Through its Member Benefits Department, the New York State United Teachers ("NYSUT") organization aims to help its members – current and retired educators and school-related professionals – overcome their concerns and seek treatment by educating them on hearing loss prevention and treatment, as well as on supplemental hearing insurance.
"By providing NYSUT members with information about voluntary hearing benefits, we are encouraging them to take advantage of the robust network of hearing professionals and substantial savings on hearing aids that this supplemental coverage provides," said Lynette Metz, Director of NYSUT Member Benefits. "We hope this inspires more NYSUT members to check their hearing on a regular basis and seek treatment sooner, so they don't suffer the added stress that untreated hearing loss could bring to their lives."
The EPIC survey found that while 60 percent of teachers are concerned about hearing loss, only 19 percent are offered hearing insurance – more than three times that many are offered dental and vision insurances.
"We're finding increasing interest from retired teachers associations in hearing insurance, especially as they are better educated on their members' higher risk, both from age and their profession," said Ernest Stobel, president of E.J.S. Insurance Services, Inc., an insurance brokerage firm. "Because of this, we're positioning hearing insurance as an equal player with dental and vision as important voluntary benefits to promote overall wellness."
Free Education Resources
Many people of all professions simply do not understand the importance of getting prompt treatment for hearing loss, another barrier to seeking care. Unfortunately, when people do not treat hearing loss, they tend to do things like turn up the television, which can worsen the problem. Difficulty with communication can lead to social isolation and disengagement, which may predispose people to avoid seeking treatment. Early intervention – by fitting people with the right hearing aids to restore hearing before lifestyles are altered – can prevent this decline.
EPIC has released free education materials through its Listen Hear! public education initiative (epichearing.com/listenhear) to help raise awareness.