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3 Tips for Choosing the Right Hearing Protection

Man Working in Earmuffs

Wearing effective hearing protection is essential when it comes to safeguarding your hearing health, especially if any of the following apply:

  • You work in a noisy environment (for example, on a construction site or in a factory)
  • You often attend events that are known to be particularly loud, such as concerts, sporting events, and so on
  • You live or work in a busy area that is often subjected to loud traffic noises
  • You use household equipment, such as vacuums or lawn mowers, or power tools such as drills regularly

If any of the above circumstances apply, or you are just seeking to protect your hearing as well as possible, then finding the right hearing protection should be considered essential.

Why is hearing protection so important?

You are likely aware that exposure to loud noises can be harmful to hearing, but the level of noise that is considered to be capable of causing permanent damage is often underestimated. Noise does not need to be painfully loud to be causing harm, and many common sounds cross the safe threshold. Here are a few examples:

  • A noisy office environment can reach up to 90 decibels
  • Using a lawn mower means being exposed to around 95 decibels
  • A leaf blower can exceed 115 decibels

All of the above are relatively common to hear, but they all have the potential to contribute to hearing loss in the future – especially if exposure to the noise is for a prolonged period of time.

What types of hearing protection are available?

Finding the right hearing protection first requires you to consider the options, with the following the most common:

  • Foam earplugs: These are designed to sit over the entrance to the ear canal; they are usually first rolled, then put in place to expand. Slow-recovery foam (also known as memory foam) is often used to enhance this effect. Both disposable and reusable options are available.
  • Pre-molded earplugs: These are usually made from silicone or plastic; different sizes are sometimes available to allow users to find a superior fit. This type of earplug is designed to fit into the entrance to the ear canal and has to be placed carefully to ensure sounds are effectively blocked.
  • Earmuffs: Two cups sit directly over the ears; the cups are connected by a headband, which is usually made of plastic. The cups of earmuffs should sit flush against the ears to offer sufficient hearing protection.
  • Otoplastics: Otoplastics are custom-made for the individual wearer and can be reused, often for several years.

Three tips on finding the right hearing protection

1. Check the NRR is suitable for your needs

Most forms of hearing protection will be rated depending on the number of decibels they can block; this is known as a “noise reduction rating,” or NRR. The highest NRR is 33 (as in 33 decibels), but – somewhat confusingly – the NRR listed on the packaging or product information for a type of hearing protection may not reflect its actual ability to reduce sound levels. As a result, you will need to reduce the listed NRR by the following degrees for each of the following types of hearing protection:

  • 75% for earmuffs
  • 50% for slow-recovery foam earplugs or custom-made earplugs
  • 30% for all other types of earplugs

For example, if you are buying earmuffs with an NRR of 33, those earmuffs would be capable of reducing the number of decibels you are exposed to by 8.25.

The NRR will tell you if the hearing protection you are considering will block enough decibels for your purposes, to reduce levels to between 70-80 decibels.

2. Consider doubling up

In some circumstances, choosing the right form of hearing protection involves selecting multiple types of hearing protection. If, for example, you work on a construction site where decibels regularly reach over 110 decibels, then you may need to wear both earmuffs and earplugs to bring the sound levels down to a safer level.

3. Ask an expert for their advice

As the above points demonstrate, choosing the right hearing protection can be incredibly complex, and given the importance of protecting your hearing, it is vital to get it right. As a result, it is usually best to discuss your requirements with an ENT specialist or similar professional, so they can make a recommendation as to the type of hearing protection that is most suited to your needs.

You can learn more about ENT Physicians Inc. and the hearing protection we offer by calling 419-776-5028 today.