The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the feasibility and utility of developing economic cost models for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). First, we outline an economic model of NIHL for a population of US Navy sailors with an "industrial"-type noise exposure. Next, we describe the effect on NIHL-related cost of varying the two central model inputs--the noise-exposure level and the duration of exposure. Such an analysis can help prioritize promising areas, to which limited resources to reduce NIHL-related costs should be devoted.
NIHL-related costs borne by the US government were computed on a yearly basis using a finite element approach that took into account varying levels of susceptibility to NIHL. Predicted hearing thresholds for the population were computed with ANSI S3.44-1996 and then used as the basis for the calculation of NIHL-related costs. Annual and cumulative costs were tracked. Noise-exposure level and duration were systematically varied to determine their effects on the expected lifetime NIHL-related cost of a specific US Navy sailor population.
Our nominal noise-exposure case [93 dB(A) for six years] yielded a total expected lifetime cost of US $13,472 per sailor, with plausible lower and upper bounds of US $2,500 and US $26,000. Starting with the nominal case, a decrease of 50% in exposure level or duration would yield cost savings of approximately 23% and 19%, respectively. We concluded that a reduction in noise level would be more somewhat more cost-effective than the same percentage reduction in years of exposure.
Our economic cost model can be used to estimate the changes in NIHL-related costs that would result from changes in noise-exposure level and/or duration for a single military population. Although the model is limited at present, suggestions are provided for adapting it to civilian populations.
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