Analysis of Early Biomarkers Associated With Noise-Induced Hearing Loss Among Shipyard Workers


Importance: It is important to determine what frequencies and auditory perceptual measures are the most sensitive early indicators of noise-induced hearing impairment. Objectives: To examine whether hearing loss among shipyard workers increases more rapidly at extended high frequencies than at clinical frequencies and whether subtle auditory processing deficits are present in those with extensive noise exposure but little or no hearing loss.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study collected audiometric data (0.25-16 kHz), survey questionnaires, and noise exposure levels from 7890 shipyard workers in a Shanghai shipyard from 2015 to 2019. Worsening hearing loss was evaluated in the group with hearing loss. Speech processing and temporal processing were evaluated in 610 participants with noise exposure and clinically normal hearing to identify early biomarkers of noise-induced hearing impairment. Data analysis was conducted from November to December 2020.

Main outcomes and measures: Linear regression was performed to model the increase in hearing loss as function of cumulative noise exposure and compared with a group who were monitored longitudinally for 4 years. Auditory processing tests included speech-in-noise tests, competing sentence tests, dichotic listening tests, and gap detection threshold tests and were compared with a control group without history of noise exposure.

Results: Of the 5539 participants (median [interquartile range (IQR)] age, 41.0 [34.0-47.0] years; 3861 [86.6%] men) included in the cross-sectional analysis, 4459 (80.5%) were hearing loss positive and 1080 (19.5%) were hearing loss negative. In younger participants (ie, ≤40 years), the maximum rate of increase in hearing loss was 0.40 (95% CI, 0.39-0.42) dB per A-weighted dB-year (dB/dBA-year) at 12.5 kHz, higher than the growth rates of 0.36 (95% CI, 0.35-0.36) dB/dBA-year at 4 kHz, 0.32 (95% CI, 0.31-0.33) dB/dBA-year at 10 kHz, 0.31 (95% CI, 0.30-0.31) dB/dBA-year at 6 kHz, 0.27 (95% CI, 0.26-0.27) dB/dBA-year at 3 kHz, and 0.27 (95% CI, 0.27-0.28) dB/dBA-year at 8 kHz. In the 4-year longitudinal analysis of hearing loss among 403 participants, the mean (SD) annual deterioration in hearing was 2.70 (2.98) dB/y at 12.5 kHz, almost twice as that observed at lower frequencies (eg, at 3kHz: 1.18 [2.15] dB/y). The auditory processing scores of participants with clinically normal hearing and a history of noise exposure were significantly lower than those of control participants (eg, median [IQR] score on speech-in-noise test, noise-exposed group 1 vs control group: 0.63 [0.55-0.66] vs 0.78 [0.76-0.80]; P < .001).

Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that the increase in hearing loss among shipyard workers was more rapid at 12.5 kHz than at other frequencies; workers with clinically normal hearing but high cumulative noise exposure are likely to exhibit deficits in speech and temporal processing.

Authors: Zhuang Jiang, Jiping Wang, Yanmei Feng, Daoyuan Sun, Xunmiao Zhang, Haibo Shi, Jian Wang, Richard Salvi, Hui Wang, Shankai Yin
; Full Source: JAMA network open 2021 Sep 1;4(9):e2124100. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.24100.