Many cases of hearing loss have an environmental origin. In other words, people begin to experience deteriorations in their hearing because of work and lifestyle choices, especially exposure to loud noises.

In today’s world, we’re saturated with loud noises like at no other point in human history. The loudest noise that our ancestors would have heard was lightning, but today, music played through headphones, pneumatic drills, music concerts, and jet engines all generate noise far above evolutionary precedent. Put simply; our ears just aren’t designed to deal with the loud sounds produced by the modern world.

The good news, however, is that you can now use hearing protection to block out some of these loud and potentially harmful noises and protect your ears long-term. Take a look at some of these tips for choosing the right hearing protection.

Tip #1: Select hearing protections with a sufficient noise reduction rating (NRR)

The noise reduction rating, or NRR, is an official rating of the ability of a particular hearing protection product to cancel out external noises. Most hearing protection devices have a noise reduction rating of 15 to 35 dB. An NRR of 25 dB, for instance, means that the hearing protection device reduces the noise reaching your ears by a claimed 25 dB.

Ideally, you want to ensure that the noise reaching your ears remains below 90 dB at all times. Noises above this threshold can damage your ears and lead to long-term hearing loss.

Suppose, for instance, you’ve planned to go to a rock concert, and you know that the music will be 110 dB. Hearing health professionals would, therefore, recommend that you choose hearing protection with a rating of 20 dB or more. However, you need to be careful: the actual level of noise reduction often differs from the claimed level. You’ll need to apply a correction factor to determine the true extent of noise cancellation. In general, you’ll want to use a correction factor of 0.7 for earplugs and 0.6 for earmuffs. So if you buy earmuffs with a 30 dB NRR, you’ll need to multiply it by 0.6 before subtracting it from the volume of your environment.

Tip #2: Choose the type of hearing protection that best fits your situation

There is a variety of hearing protection products on the market, including foam earplugs, otoplastics, silicone plugs, earmuff, and wax balls.

Foam earplugs are most commonly used in factories and on construction sites as needed. Workers scrunch up the tip of the foam earplug, insert it into their ears, and then allow the foam to expand, blocking the ear canal and any sound waves that might want to travel up it.

Foam earplugs are highly effective at blocking out noise and are one of the most cost-effective interventions available. This type of hearing protection, however, is single-use.

Wax balls do a similar job to foam earplugs, providing temporary hearing protection at a slightly higher cost.

Silicone plugs are similar in shape to foam plugs but work differently. A silicone earplug looks like a miniature traffic cone, surrounded by multiple concentric rings. The rings block not only sound waves but also prevent sudden pressure changes from affecting the inner ear, making them a popular choice for those who experience pain while flying.

Otoplastics – or “plastics for the ear” – are a special kind of hearing protection molded to the precise shape of your ear canal, and are particularly popular among motorcyclists.

Finally, earmuffs are great for people who want to block out noises but don’t want to irritate the inner ear. Earplugs are excellent at canceling noise, but they can be uncomfortable if worn for extended periods. Earmuffs get around this problem.

Tip #3: Ensure your hearing protection meets ANSI standards

ANSI or the American National Standards Institute measures and classifies hearing protection devices in the US, including determining the noise reduction rating. If you need hearing protection, you should only choose accessories that are ANSI-certified. Other hearing protection products may not offer sufficient noise cancelation or may have inaccurate information regarding their noise-canceling abilities.

The type of hearing protection you choose and NRR depends on the volume of noises in your environment. Jackhammers and jet engines are often more than 130 dB, shotguns and air raid sirens around 120 dB, chain saws and tractors between 100 and 110 dB, and circular saws around 90 to 100 dB.

If you want to learn more about hearing protection, get in touch with The Hearing Clinic at Woodlake on 612-200-8414.