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Hearing Protection

hearing protection
The world is a louder place than we may think or know. When our ears are exposed to noise, it is important that they are protected. Using hearing protection is crucial for preventing hearing loss, and also protecting us from noise that can lead to other health issues, such as stress and poor concentration and more serious issues such as cardiovascular disease and tinnitus.

Noise-related hearing loss is one of the most common occupational hazards, affecting 25 percent of US workers. It is also the third most prevalent chronic condition in older adults. Some of these loud environmental noises, such as traffic and city noise can be hard to avoid, but other noises we can actively protect ourselves.

Types of hearing protection

The two most popular types of hearing protection are earplugs and earmuffs.

Earplugs

Earplugs are an easy, inexpensive way to protect your hearing. They are usually made from foam, silicone or wax, and can be purchased over the counter at your local pharmacy. Earplugs are commonly yellow, but they can also be found in a range of colors and sizes to accommodate users. The soft material is designed to be compressed into a small shape to fit into the ear canal, where they then expand.

You can use earplugs to protect your hearing in loud environments, such as concerts. They are also commonly used to sleep next to a snoring partner.

Read more: Who is at risk from noise-induced hearing loss?

Earmuffs

 Earmuffs are another form of hearing protection. Similar to noise-canceling headphones, ear muffs decrease the amount of sound going into the ears. Earmuffs are larger than earplugs, and fit around the head, similar to headphones or the fuzzy earmuffs worn in winter. They consist of a headband that fits over the head, and a cushion at each end that goes over the ears.

Earmuffs are commonly used in more workplace situations, such as construction sites and airports. However, they are also commonly used for children, and come in special sizes and colors for them to wear at events such as loud sports games at stadiums, which have been known to  reach up to 120 decibels, which is equivalent to the sound of a chain saw.

What type of hearing protection do musicians wear?

Working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession, according to the AARP. They are also 57 percent more likely to have tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.

In another survey by Charity Help Musicians UK,  40.5% of musicians in orchestras said they had experienced hearing loss, with 78.3% of these revealing that being a musician was one of the factors that had caused it. Of those who complained of hearing loss, 75% said they experienced tinnitus and 50% said they had sought professional help as a result. However, 39% said they had not sought help because they thought hearing problems were “unavoidable” in their line of work.

Many musicians think that hearing protection would muffle their musical experience, which they rely on while they perform.

As a professional musician, I have been involved in many a discussion with friends and colleagues about the issue of noise-induced hearing loss,” says Eloise Garland, a deaf violinist. “For one, people simply don’t consider that it could happen to them. Another reason is the belief that earplugs distort sound, giving musicians a rather unpleasant experience.”

Read more: Why musicians should be more aware of hearing loss 

However, there are options to help musicians protect their hearing while allowing them to hear all of the musical soundscapes by reducing frequencies equally. Ear protection for musicians is similar to an in-the-ear hearing aid. They can be custom made by an audiologist or hearing care professional.

Musicians that do not use hearing protection often suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus. Eric Clapton, Sting, AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Martin KempHuey Lewis, and Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath are among the many celebrities who have said their music career has lead to hearing loss.

How are custom earplugs made?

The first step to making custom earplug is to have ear impressions done. An ear impression is made of a clay or foam-like material that the audiologist or hearing care professional fills into your ear. The material is soft at first, then hardens to the shape of your ear. This impression is then sent into a company that makes a copy out of earplug material.

Custom earplugs, while more expensive than earplugs or earmuffs, are great because they will fit your ear perfectly.  They can also be more comfortable and fit better because they are custom made.

If you’re looking for custom made hearing protection, you can find an audiologist near you by using this online tool: Find an Audiologist.

hearing protectio

When is hearing protection required?

It is important to wear hearing protection in many situations and loud environments.

However, it is crucial to wear hearing protection in the following places:

      • Concerts
      • Construction site
      • Working with machinery
      • Factories
      • Riding a motorcycle
      • Shooting or hunting

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the maximum exposure time at 85 dBA is eight hours. Sounds at 110 dBA, it would only take one minute and 29 seconds for hearing damage to occur.

Read more: How to recognize and protect yourself from dangerous sounds

Kids and baby ear protection

It is especially important to protect the hearing of children and babies. Little ears are more sensitive to loud sounds than an adult’s ears. Due to their smaller ear canal, sounds can create more pressure inside the ear, which can be damaging.

Similar loud environments affect children as they do adults, but there are more unique situations to be aware of.

For example, some toys are very loud exceeding 120dB. You can use an app to measure the decibels of your child’s toys.

Also, it is important to protect your child’s hearing in other situations such as sporting events, parades or festivals. Earmuffs or noise canceling headphones are the best ways to protect your child’s hearing. Earplugs are a choking hazard and are not recommend or babies and children to use. You can often purchase children’s hearing protection at drug stores, online retailers such as Amazon, or sometimes they can be found at places where hearing aids are sold.

There are so many beautiful sounds in this world! If we want to enjoy them all, it’s time we are more active in protecting our ears.

Read more: 10 Small Changes You Can Make to Save Your Hearing

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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.
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The HearingLikeMe editorial team includes Jill von Bueren, Kirsten Brackett and Lisa Goldstein.