Preventable Farmer Conditions

Avoid hearing loss and skin cancer by protecting yourself as you return to work on the farm.

by Dani Yokhna
Farmers can wear large-brimmed hats and UV-protective clothing to help prevent skin cancer.

For hobby farmers, exposure to loud equipment and long days in the sun are a given. But according to Carolyn Sheridan, a rural nurse and clinical director for Agri-Safe Network, the resulting hearing loss and skin cancer are preventable. As the weather warms up and you begin to head back to work on the farm, keep in mind these tips for protecting your ears and your skin.

Preventing Hearing Loss
The equipment and tools farmers use, often for long stints, are noisy. And the animals, such as pigs, certainly aren’t quiet. Farmers may think they’ve simply gotten used to the noise over time, but in actuality, they’re not hearing it.

On the other hand, hearing loss doesn’t mean everything is just quiet. It can come in the form of tinnitus, which people experience as a ringing, buzzing or clicking in the ears.

“Hearing loss is painless, progressive and permanent—but it’s preventable,” Sheridan emphasizes.

Hearing loss is caused by prolonged exposure to high decibels. Studies have shown that running a chain saw for four minutes is too long. And many farmers don’t have the option of abandoning the tractor for the quieter horse and plow.

The solution, Sheridan says, is to minimize the noise level, also known as the decibel level, using one or more of the 400 types of hearing protection devices available. The devices range from throw-away earplugs to large earmuffs.

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Preventing Skin Cancer
Like hearing loss, skin cancer is far too common for farmers, but it’s also avoidable. Although skin cancer does not usually appear until after the age of 50, it’s related to a lifetime of exposure to the sun.

The risk factors of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma range from scars and burns to infections and family history. Actinic keratosis—flat, scaly growths on the ears, face and backs of hands—is one of the biggest risk factors and one many farmers have, according to Sheridan.

Farmers and ranchers should also be on the lookout for sore lumps and bumps that linger.

“These things don’t heal, they just hang around,” Sheridan says.

A third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is much more dangerous than squamous cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It has a lower cure rate and can spread more easily to other parts of the body.

Red flags for melanoma include a change in the shape, size and color of a mole or the appearance of a new mole that looks black or abnormal. Melanoma growths are often asymmetrical, have ragged borders and an uneven color, and change in diameter.

In addition to regular skin self-exams, even in areas of the body not exposed to the sun, Sheridan recommends wearing clothes that filter UV rays. Sunscreen should be applied liberally at least 20 minutes before going outside and again every two hours. Sunglasses and 3-inch brimmed hats made with fabric that will block UV rays are important, too.

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