You wouldn’t be surprised if you were told that exposure to loud noise may result in serious health damage, hearing loss in particular. However, not many know that the fetus in the womb may get hurt as well.
Recent studies have found a linkage between pregnant women who work in a noisy environment and hearing problems diagnosed in their children later on in life.
The most comprehensive study dealing with this issue was carried out by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, in the years 1986 -2008. Researchers cross-checked employment data of pregnant women with data coming from clinics that documented various hearing disorders in children born to these women.
Results left no room for doubt. It was found that children born to women who were exposed to noise level above 85 decibels (the same noise level produced by a vacuum cleaner) on a regular basis tended to suffer from a variety of hearing disorders, such as hearing loss from an unknown neural reason, repeated internal ear diseases, and tinnitus (hearing sound that does not have an external source). Children to pregnant mothers who worked in the music industry, in kitchens and in carpentry shops suffered from the most severe hearing problems.
Why does loud noise endanger the fetus?
The sense of hearing in fetuses is slightly different from that of babies outside the womb, children and adults. During the 20th week of pregnancy, the fetus’ outer, middle and inner ear and the auditory nerve are fully developed and from the 24th week the fetus responds to noise.
However, the cochlea, which is responsible for converting sound into nerve signals that are passed down to the brain, has not yet reached full maturity at this stage. That makes the fetus’ ears vulnerable to long term noise exposure. The soft tissues of the mother’s body that wrap the fetus can protect it from one-time exposure to loud noise but they are less effective when it comes to continuous exposure.
So what can be done?
If you are pregnant and you work in a noisy environment, you should ask your employer to arrange a quieter area for you. In addition, you should do your best to avoid exposing your body directly to the source of noise. For example, stay away from working machines. It will be best to choose a relatively quieter place during the work day.
If you can’t do all of the above, you should seriously consider quitting your job. Remember, you can protect yourself from the noise but not your unborn child.
Article was contributed by Samantha Harris, a deaf and hard of hearing teacher from Melbourne, Australia