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Your Position: Home - Sports & Entertainment - Questions You Should Know about The Best Hearing Protection

Questions You Should Know about The Best Hearing Protection

Approximately 26 million Americans currently live with hearing loss due to sound exposure above comfortable decibels. While you can’t completely avoid noise, you can shield your ears from its damaging effects. But, sometimes, one loud bang can burst your eardrums, reiterating the importance of ear protection. That said, here are frequently asked questions you should get answers to. 

Which Hearing Protection Products Are Available?

There are various hearing protection types, but the most important thing is to choose one that is comfortable and functional. Regarding the available types, you will find the following quite helpful:

  • Custom earplugs
  • Earmuffs
  • Foam earplugs

The disposable foam earplugs work well for persons living and working in moderately noisy environments. You can still hear conversations around you without strain to make out what is being said, although you have them on. Custom earplugs, just as the name sounds, are made to fit your ears. These are often used as ear protection by specific groups of people engaged in their line of work.

For example, musicians, factories and construction workers protect their hearing while in the studio or on-site. Because these are custom-made, the hearing health professional takes an impression of your ears to get the right fit for you. On the other hand, earmuffs block sound significantly, are incredibly comfortable and are mainly used at shooting ranges and motorsports activities.

How Long Do Hearing Protection Products Last?

Disposable earplugs are usually made from foam and discarded after a day or two due to foam’s tendency to accumulate dirt and bacteria build-up. Therefore, to avoid ear infections, you have to discard them for another. On the other hand, plastic earplugs will last longer if cleaned daily and after each use.

If your choice is the custom earplugs, you can be assured that they can last for five years. Furthermore, they can be cleaned with diluted hydrogen peroxide or soap and water without causing damage to them. Finally, earmuffs are the longest-serving hearing protection aids you can have. Additionally, they are easy to clean, and their design makes it convenient to replace worn-out or damaged parts, if necessary. 

Why Do I Need Earplugs If I’m Nearly Deaf?

Nearly deaf does not mean a total loss of your hearing sense, as your inner ear continues to maintain some of its natural and essential functions. Therefore, you would be saving yourself from progressing to an even worse stage of hearing loss by wearing earplugs. Therefore, your nearly deaf status is worth preserving.

Can Hearing Aids Serve as Earplugs Too?

To some extent, the answer to this question is yes. However, this has more to do with modern hearing aids. These types are designed and manufactured with some Software responsible for cutting back on excessive sounds or noise. For example, some modern hearing aids have Software that blocks out or reduces sirens and traffic sounds.

For instance, the in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid can provide ear protection for sounds less than 20 decibels, especially when it is vented. When unvented, hearing protection can go above 20 decibels. With that said, the only reason your hearing health professional may advise against using hearing aids as protection is that they can easily get dislodged. It’s especially true when your hearing device does not fit snugly in your ear. Sometimes, with a loose device fitting, a simple movement of your jaw joint will displace the aids, ultimately defeating the purpose of ear protection.

Can Hearing Aids Be Worn Under Muff Protectors?

You can attempt this, although it may give rise to other problems as well. Whether you’re wearing the in-the-ear (ITE), behind-the-ear (BTE) and in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids, you can still use your earmuffs to provide additional protection. The only downside to this is, earmuffs can generate heat and cause humid conditions in the ear and damage the hearing aid.

Therefore, it would make sense to take out your hearing aids at the close of the day or as often as possible to air dry them. Proper ventilation of your hearing aids will increase their lifespan. Remember to clean your hearing aid to prevent moisture from seeping in.

You should continuously protect your ears and their functions from pollutants such as noise and dirt. Moreover, you cannot undermine the importance of protecting your ears, regardless of your hearing loss degree. For all your hearing loss help and anything else you need to know about improving your hearing, you may contact Hear Again America at (877) 905-9493.

We live in a noisy world. Some noises can damage our hearing, leading to hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and difficulty communicating especially in background noise. Permanent noise-induced hearing damage is incurable. If you cannot reduce your noise exposure by turning down the volume, moving away from the sound, or limiting the time you are exposed, hearing protection is your only option. But hearing protection comes in so many styles, materials, color, and sizes – how can you know which is best for you? National Protect Your Hearing Month is the perfect opportunity to discuss tips for picking the right hearing protector.

Figure 1: Selection of different hearing protection devices – Earplugs, Earmuffs, and Earbands

 

1) Know How Much Noise Reduction You Need

Obviously, the first consideration in choosing a hearing protector is whether it will block enough noise to reduce your exposure to a safe level. The good news is that most industrial noise exposures are less than 95 dBA, which means most workers require no more than about 10 dB of noise reduction to meet the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit of 85 dBA. Almost any hearing protector, when fit correctly, can provide 10 dB of sound reduction. If you do not know the noise levels at your worksite, you can measure them with an app such as the NIOSH Sound Level Meter.

Louder environments demand higher levels of noise reduction, but beware of reducing sound too much. Just as too little light can make it just as difficult to see as too much light, too little sound can make you feel isolated and less aware of their surroundings. Overprotection can be counterproductive, as you may feel the need to remove your hearing protector to hear someone speak or listen to your equipment. Aim for just enough noise reduction to bring your exposure down to 75-85 dBA.

The Noise Reduction Rating on hearing protector packaging represents the amount of noise the hearing protector blocked when tested in a laboratory, but workers usually get much less noise reduction on the job. The best way to know how much noise reduction you are getting from a hearing protector is by fit-testing. If fit-testing is not available at your workplace, you can check earplug fit by counting out loud while slowly cupping and uncupping your hands over your ears; if you have a good fit, your voice should sound about the same as you cup and uncup your ears. NIOSH QuickFitWeb can also be used to check if you are getting more or less than 15 dB of sound reduction.

If you are exposed to noise levels 100 dBA or greater (such as chainsaws or jackhammers) or if you are exposed to impulsive sounds (such as nail gun or weapons noise), you should wear double hearing protection (earmuffs over earplugs).

 

2) Think About Your Worksite and Job Tasks

Workplace characteristics beyond noise levels also need to be considered in choosing the right hearing protector. For example, do you have to wear other head-level personal protective equipment (PPE), such as eye protection, a hard hat, or a respirator? Eye protection (and even some eyeglasses) can interfere with the seal of an earmuff around the ear, allowing sound to leak into the ear. Earmuffs can interfere with the fit of hardhats or helmets; some muffs have a “low-profile” headband or are designed to be mounted directly onto a hardhat or helmet, eliminating this problem. Make sure that your hearing protection is compatible with other safety equipment you use at work.

Consider also whether the noise at your job is continuous or if it stops and starts at various times during the day. Do you stay in the same place for most of the workday, or move from one area to another? Earmuffs are easier to remove and replace than earplugs, so they may be better for intermittent noise exposures. If earmuffs are not an option due to other issues (e.g., compatibility with other PPE), pre-formed earplugs may be easier to remove and replace than foam plugs. Level-dependent or sound restoration hearing protectors can also be useful for intermittent exposures; these types of hearing protection allow sound to pass through when the background noise levels are low and become protective when noise levels increase.

Do your hands frequently get dirty at work? If so, avoid using foam earplugs which must be rolled down with your fingers before insertion, unless hand-washing facilities are readily available and you have time to wash up each time you need to insert the earplugs. Do you work in a tight space? Earmuffs may not be compatible when working in a confined area. Is it very hot or very cold where you work?   Earmuffs can be uncomfortable in hot environments; earmuff cushions can become ineffective in very cold environments.

Recommended article:
10 Things to Consider When Buying Buy Hearing Protector
The Ultimate Buyer's Guide for Purchasing Buy Ear Protection

Finally, think about how frequently you need to hear speech while wearing hearing protection. If spoken communication is common, or if high fidelity sound is important for other reasons (e.g., musicians), flat attenuation hearing protectors may be helpful. Special communication headsets can also improve speech communication in very loud environments.

 

3) Decide What is Most Comfortable and Convenient

Once you have narrowed your selection down to hearing protectors that are appropriate for your noise exposure and compatible with your worksite and job tasks, the choice is completely up to you! However, hearing protection only works if you wear it consistently and correctly every time you are exposed to hazardous noise, so choose a protector that is comfortable and convenient.

Many people find earplugs more comfortable than earmuffs, especially when worn for long periods of time or in in hot environments. Earplugs are lightweight, easy to store, and convenient to keep on hand for unexpected exposures. However, earplugs may be harder to learn to fit properly. Some earplugs come in different sizes, so you may need help determining which size is correct for you. If your ear canals are very narrow or very curvy, it may be difficult to find an earplug that will fit. Earplugs are usually inexpensive, but they need to be replaced frequently; some earplugs are designed to be used once only and then discarded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earmuffs, on the other hand, are generally one-size devices. Many people find them easier to fit properly and consistently. Earmuffs are easier to remove and replace quickly, so they can be preferable for intermittent use. They are bulkier than earplugs and may be uncomfortable in warm places or tight spaces. They are more expensive, but more durable and last longer than earplugs.

Hearing health relies on knowing how to protect your hearing and how to select the right form of hearing protection. This National Protect Your Hearing Month, take a few minutes to make sure you are using the best hearing protection for your work tasks. Then, wear it every time you are exposed to noise levels above 85 dBA. Your ears will thank you!

 

CAPT William J. Murphy, Ph.D., is a research physicist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

Christa L. Themann, MA, CCC-A, is a research audiologist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

CAPT Chucri (Chuck) A. Kardous, MS, PE, is a research engineer with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

CAPT David C. Byrne, Ph.D., CCC-A, is a research audiologist with the NIOSH Division of Applied Research and Technology.

 

Additional resources:

NIOSH Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Best practice bulletin: Hearing protection-emerging trends: Individual Fit Testing

Hearing protection – OSH WIKI

Questions You Should Know about The Best Hearing Protection

Three Tips for Choosing the Right Hearing Protector

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