Between tractors, harvesters, grain dryers and squealing pigs, life in rural America is anything but quiet.
According to the Associated, nearly one-third of America’s nearly 3 million farmers have some level of hearing loss, and farmers of all ages are at risk.
"The culture can be sort of like, 'Don't worry about it, it's just part of life and if you get hearing loss, well your grandfather had hearing loss and his father before him did — it's part of the deal,'" Billy Martin, an audiologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said.
Research in 2006 found that of the 2,700 farmers in the study had dramatically higher levels of hearing loss between the ages of 20 and 60 than those who don’t work in loud environments. Many companies are producing quieter tractors and machinery, but the risk is still there.
"This is all cumulative, not just one day, but the next day adds more, the day after that adds even more. And farm activities tend to be repetitive," Gordon Hughes, director of clinical programs for the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, said.
James Lankford, a now-retired professor of audiology at Northern Illinois University who co-authored the 2006 study, stresses that many of the study’s farmers already had hearing loss by their early 20s.
"The younger farmers, the ones who were going to take over the farm, realized how significant a hearing loss they could face by working without ear protections when they're around high-intensity noises," he said. "It was really enlightening for them."
A 2005 Canadian study found that many cases of hearing loss are seen as a “private” problem and can present many challenges for maintaining safety on the farm.
There are many online resources for farmers to use to learn more about preventing hearing loss, including Extension.com, Penn State Extension, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, and the University of Iowa College of Public Health.