This study aimed to investigate the effectiveness of the Quiet earplug noise protectors worn by a group of South African industrial workers exposed to excessive noise in the workplace. This was achieved by investigating the prevalence and amplitudes of distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs), as they have been found to be sensitive to the effects of noise on the cochlea (Vinck, Van Cauwenberge, Leroy,&Corthals, 1999, p. 52). DPOAEs were recorded before and after noise exposure and were compared in order to determine whether the earplugs are providing sufficient protection against cochlear damage. DPOAEs were recorded using a test protocol where the primaries are fixed at L1 = 60dB SPL and L2 = 35dB SPL (L1 - L2 = 25dB) with an f2/f1 ratio of 1.18. The f2 frequencies were selected to correspond closely to the audiometric test frequencies of 2000Hz, 3000Hz, 4000Hz, 6000Hz and 8000Hz. The study found the prevalence of DPOAEs to be statistically stable and repeatable. This was true for DPOAEs measured successively during the same test sitting, as well as comparing prevalence determined before and after exposure to eight hours of noise. DPOAE prevalence alone was therefore not found to be a good indication of the temporary threshold shift (TTS) associated with the effects of noise on the cochlea. However, a significant finding of the study was that normal DPOAEs were recorded in only six right ears (24%) and seven left ears (28%) before noise exposure, even though all the subjects presented with hearing thresholds better than 25dB SPL. This may mean that cochlear pathology is already evident in some of the subjects tested. Further results of the study showed DPOAE amplitudes to be sensitive to the negative effects of excessive noise, as there was a significant difference between DPOAE amplitudes measured before and after the noise exposure. DPOAE amplitudes, specifically in the frequencies that are known to be affected by noise such as 4000Hz and 6000Hz, measured after the work-shift were significantly smaller than those measured before exposure to noise. Although correct usage of the earplugs could not be controlled for the duration of the noise exposure, each subject was instructed on the correct usage of the hearing protection before entering the noise zone. Bearing this limitation of the study in mind, because DPOAE amplitudes were reduced the implication is that the Quiet earplugs are not providing sufficient protection against the harmful effects of noise.
Dissertation (M (Communication Pathology))--University of Pretoria, 2005.