Exposure to loud noises is one of the leading causes of hearing loss. People who work on noisy building sites regularly go to loud music events or listen to sounds too loud through their headphones put themselves at an increased risk. 

The problem with loud noises is how they affect the delicate machinery of the inner ear. Loud noises interact with the small hair-like structures in the middle ear and, over time, can damage them. High volume sounds can also hurt the eardrum and lead to a degradation of the surrounding tissue surrounding with prolonged exposure. 

Hearing protection comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common form of hearing protection is earplugs – small bits of foam or silicone that you insert into the ear canal to block the passage of incoming sounds. The other option, frequently seen on building sites, are earmuffs. Earmuffs look a lot like regular headphones, with a single device protecting both ears and a band connecting the two, which runs over the top of the head. 

Choosing the right hearing protection is not an easy task. You need to know whether the sound blocking ability of the earplugs or earmuffs is sufficient for your particular situation. And you need to figure out which variety of hearing protection works best for you or your team. 

Check out these three tips for choosing the right hearing protection

Tip 1: choose the correct noise reduction rating

The “noise reduction rating” or NRR, as it is sometimes called, is an official measure of the noise reduction capabilities of hearing protection. You might see something like “noise reduction rating: 15” or “NRR 25” on the packaging of your hearing protection. 

The noise reduction rating is an estimate of the noise-canceling ability of the device. An NRR of 25, for instance, means that the device can reduce the noise reaching the inner ear by 25 decibels compared to ambient. 

What’s interesting about the NRR is that they tend to top out at around 32 for the best earplugs on the market. Many of these top-rated plugs are specially molded to precisely fit the ear of the user to block out the maximum amount of incoming sound waves possible. 

A noise rating of 32, however, might not be a true reflection of the performance of the device. NRRs tend to overstate the noise reduction that you experience. Most people, therefore, work to a formula: (NNR-7)/2 and then subtract this from the noise in the environment. So for an NRR of 32, you’re looking at a real noise-cancellation level of 12.5 dB. 

Tip 2: calculate your level of exposure to noise with hearing protection

Most audiologists recommend that people try to avoid sounds above 85 dB whenever possible. 85 dB is about the same volume as somebody shouting at you from across the room. 

Many people, however, are exposed to sounds that are louder than this. People on construction sites and working in factories often experience sound levels around 90 dB. Carpenters, people at rock concerts, and motorcyclists regularly experience noise levels between 100 and 120 dB. And people who work in the police or near to jet engines can experience noise above 140 dB. 

Ideally, you want to choose ear protection that helps you get the noise you experience below 85 dB at all times. For most working environments, this is easy – standard ear protection with a high enough NRR will be enough. But for some, including airport operatives and police, the best hearing protection solutions might not be sufficient. 

To take an example, imagine you are a police officer who has to listen to the sound of gunfire. A gunshot might create a noise of 140 dB which. Even with the best hearing protection, the noise reaching the officer’s inner ears could still top 110 dB, which is above the safe range. 

Tip 3: choose the right form factor

Hearing protection comes in a variety of form factors. The type of protection you choose depends on your situation as well as your preferences. 

Earplugs are ideal for when you want to wear discreet hearing protection at, say, a rock concert. They’re also idea on building sites for one-offs noisy events, such as using a jackhammer to break up concrete. 

Earmuffs are more expensive but are better when you need ear protection frequently. You just place the muffs over your head, and they’re immediately ready to go. Unlike foam earplugs, you don’t have to scrunch them up before inserting them into the ear canal. 

If you want to learn more about hearing protection, get in touch with Audiology Associates at (888) 701-1441.