Noise exposure during prehospital emergency physicians work on Mobile Emergency Care Units and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services

Mads Christian Tofte Hansen, Jesper Hvass Schmidt, Anne C Brøchner, Jakob Kjersgaard Johansen, Stine Zwisler, Søren Mikkelsen

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BACKGROUND: Prehospital personnel are at risk of occupational hearing loss due to high noise exposure. The aim of the study was to establish an overview of noise exposure during emergency responses in Mobile Emergency Care Units (MECU), ambulances and Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS). A second objective was to identify any occupational hearing loss amongst prehospital personnel.

METHODS: Noise exposure during work in the MECU and HEMS was measured using miniature microphones worn laterally to the auditory canals or within the earmuffs of the helmet. All recorded sounds were analysed in proportion to a known tone of 94 dB. Before and after episodes of noise exposure, the physicians underwent a hearing test indicating whether the noise had had any impact on the function of the outer sensory hair cells. This was accomplished by measuring the amplitude level shifts of the Distortion Product Otoacoustic Emissions. Furthermore, the prehospital personnels' hearing was investigated using pure-tone audiometry to reveal any occupational hearing loss. All prehospital personnel were compared to ten in-hospital controls.

RESULTS: Our results indicate high-noise exposure levels of ≥80 dB(A) during use of sirens on the MECU and during HEMS operations compared to in-hospital controls (70 dB(A)). We measured an exposure up to ≥90 dB(A) under the helmet for HEMS crew. No occupational hearing loss was identified with audiometry. A significant level shift of the Distortion Product Otoacoustic Emissions at 4 kHz for HEMS crew compared to MECU physicians was found indicating that noise affected the outer hair cell function of the inner ear, thus potentially reducing the hearing ability of the HEMS crew.

DISCUSSION: Further initiatives to prevent noise exposure should be taken, such as active noise reduction or custom-made in-ear protection with communication system for HEMS personnel. Furthermore, better insulation of MECU and ambulances is warranted.

CONCLUSION: We found that the exposure levels exceeded the recommendations described in the European Regulative for Noise, which requires further protective initiatives. Although no hearing loss was demonstrated in the personnel of the ground-based units, a reduced function of the outer sensory hair cells was found in the HEMS group following missions.

TidsskriftScandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - 6. dec. 2017


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