Improving the lives of farmers

Dr. Marjorie McCullagh is on a mission to improve the lives of farmers, and anyone at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, through important discoveries and applying new knowledge to everyday life.

Dr. McCullagh with Farm WorkerNoise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are prevalent in America and a very serious problem for farmers. Nobody knows the depth of this problem quite like Dr. Marjorie McCullagh.

Dr. McCullagh has been studying hearing loss in several worker groups for more than 15 years. Her most current research compares the effectiveness of several options for helping farmers to protect themselves from hearing loss.
 
“Noise-induced hearing loss results in heavy social and economic burdens on families and communities,” said Dr. McCullagh. “This is a large group of workers that are in high-risk environments but are underserved. I was motivated to find a way to try and help them, and I saw an opportunity to make a real difference in their lives and in the lives of future farm workers.”
 
Dr. McCullagh has developed instruments to measure attitudes and beliefs related to the use of hearing protection, and has developed a model that has been useful in describing factors influencing hearing protector use among farmers.  She has also described farmers’ personal experiences in successfully becoming hearing protection users and influencing others in the farming industry to follow suit.  
 
In a previous study she conducted on factory workers, she found that three out of four workers believed their hearing to be good or excellent. However, 42 percent actually suffered from hearing loss.
 
Dr. McCullagh expects that if she took a similar survey among farm workers, the results would be virtually identical. “It’s really important that we try to prevent the problem right from the start, and educate farmers on how they can protect themselves from hearing loss,” she said.
 
To do that, Dr. McCullagh will now focus on a study of hearing loss in farm youth with a grant received by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
 
“In my many years of studying and researching noise-induced hearing loss, we have made a lot of discoveries in how to prevent it in various worker groups,” Dr. McCullagh said. “I will continue to focus on this area because I know there is even more to discover that will help improve the lives of farm workers.”