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Workers' compensation does not always cover hearing loss

Some jobs in California and around the country may cause damage to employees' hearing. Workers' compensation may be sought after auditory loss due to sudden loud sounds at work, such as a firearm discharge or continuous noise like that at a construction site. Because hearing loss is very uncommon in people under 50, many doctors don't bother with testing for it. However, if one works in a situation where there is frequent exposure to loud sound, hearing loss could be happening over time.

Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus, can come on in such a way. Sufferers gradually become aware of hearing a constant, high-pitched tone, either in one or both ears. It arises so slowly that people often don't even realize that it is going on unless they pay special attention to the tone. The condition is caused by damage over a period of time to the cochlea, which are hairs of the inner ear that translate vibrations to the brain, which interprets the input as sound.

One way that the cochlea can be damaged quickly is an exposure to a single very loud event. Permanent damage can be caused to those hair cells in a situation such as an explosion or other concussive event, but often these events result in only temporary hearing loss. It is the constant, chronic exposure to loud noise that isn't even noticed at first that is the usual cause of permanent auditory damage.

Individuals who have lost hearing due to working conditions may pursue injury claims with workers' compensation insurers. Another possible avenue could be a personal injury claim against those who were responsible for any negligence that led to hearing loss. Because the source of a gradual injury is harder to prove, legal aid may be necessary.

Source: Police One, "Preserving hearing in a high-decibel profession", Tim Dees, November 25, 2013

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