On initial consideration, ear protection is often viewed as something that only select groups of people need to concern themselves with. For example, those who work on construction sites or industrial environments are advised to wear ear protection during working hours.
However, while the above groups absolutely do need to consider ear protection, it is not just the people in these groups that need to be concerned. In truth, ear protection can benefit the hearing health of everyone; in this piece, we’ll explain why this is, and what types of ear protection you may wish to consider.
Why is ear protection so important?
It is a fairly well-known fact that exposure to loud noise can cause damage to hearing, but what is less well-known is just how common potentially-dangerous levels of sound are.
Eighty-five decibels is considered to be the point at which sound can become harmful to hearing, and this level is really not that loud at all; most of us will encounter sound at this level on a regular basis. For example, the noise on a busy street busy can reach 85 decibels, using a lawnmower means exposure to over 90 decibels, while drills and other power tools can reach over 100 decibels. Additionally, certain entertainment events can easily cross the 85-decibel level; for example, anyone who goes to concerts or attends sporting events will be exposed to over 100 decibels – often for a prolonged period of time.
This continual exposure to loud noise can increase the likelihood of developing what is known as noise-induced hearing loss. Loud noise damages the tiny hair cells in the inner ear; in time, this can mean that the hair cells die completely. Humans do not have the ability to regenerate these hair cells, so when they have been lost, permanent damage to hearing can develop.
Ear protection is by far the best way of protecting your hearing against the impacts of the loud, excessive noise we are all exposed to on a regular basis.
What types of ear protection are available?
A variety of different types of ear protection have been developed in order to protect people against excessive sound levels, including:
- Foam earplugs: Are inserted into the ear and are effective at providing protection from loud noise. Most foam earplugs are only designed to be used once and then discarded.
- Wax balls: Are also single-use. They can be molded to fit the shape of your ear, which can make them more comfortable to wear and seal off the ear canal to prevent loud noises from reaching the inner ear.
- Silicone earplugs: Cover the ear canal (rather than being inserted into it) and are thought to be more comfortable to wear. As with the options discussed thus far, they are also considered to be single-use only.
- Banded earplugs: Are attached to a band that helps to keep them in place. The earplugs sit outside of the ear canal, rather than inside it; this offers less protection from loud noises, but can still be an effective method of protecting your hearing.
- Earmuffs: Are worn over the entire ear, with a band over the head keeping the cups in place. They tend to be comfortable to wear thanks to soft ear cushions and have the benefit of being reusable.
- Otoplastics: Are a solution that can last for many years. They are made from, as you might expect, plastic, and are custom-designed for the user.
Deciding which type of ear protection you should use depends on a number of factors, such as how frequently you will need to use ear protection and the level of noise you will be exposed to. Your audiologist will be able to advise you further on which type might be most suitable for your individual requirements.
When should ear protection be worn?
Essentially, at any time when it is likely that you will be exposed to noise over 85 decibels – so if you attend a sports event, a concert or work in a noisy environment, ear protection will always be the best choice for long-term hearing health.
Most of us are exposed to environments that are potentially loud enough to damage hearing far more often than we realize. Choosing one of the aforementioned types of ear protection and using these whenever you are exposed to sounds over 85 decibels is highly recommended, and can help to protect the health of your hearing in the future.