Background: Farmers have high rates of hearing loss, yet little is known about the hearing status of migrant agricultural workers. We performed a cross-sectional survey to assess the prevalence and impact of hearing loss in this population.
Methods: One hundred fifty migrant and seasonal agricultural workers were surveyed at a series of health fairs held at migrant camps. A bilingual questionnaire included items related to hearing loss risk factors and subjective hearing difficulties. Pure tone audiometry and tympanometry were performed in a mobile testing van.
Results: More than half the subjects had some degree of hearing loss at audiometric frequencies between 500 and 6,000 Hz, especially in the higher frequencies. Hispanic males in the sample had significantly greater prevalence of high-frequency hearing loss compared to adults in the national Hispanic Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (HHANES). More than 35% of respondents complained of subjective difficulty hearing or understanding speech, yet no workers reported use of hearing aids. Even after adjusting for measured hearing loss, Hispanic farm workers were more likely than their English- speaking counterparts to complain of difficulty hearing or understanding speech, suggesting that language barriers could worsen the impact of hearing loss. Risk factors for hearing loss included age and abnormal tympanometry. Occupational exposures to noise from tractors and other machinery as well as pesticides were frequently reported, while use of hearing protection was rare.
Conclusion: Hearing loss is a significant and under-recognized problem in the migrant worker population. Further preventive and treatment efforts are warranted.