Noise Induced Hearing Loss and Protection

Every day, we experience sound in our environment, From television and radio to household appliances and traffic. Normally, these sounds are at safe levels that don’t damage our hearing. But sounds can be harmful when they're too loud, and can potentially damage sensitive structures in the inner ear causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Hearing loss can result from a single loud sound (like firecrackers) near your ear. Or, more often, hearing loss can result over time from damage caused by repeated exposure to loud sounds. The louder the sound, the shorter the amount of time it takes for hearing loss to occur. The longer the exposure, the greater the risk for hearing loss (especially when hearing protection is not used or there is not enough time for the ears to rest between exposures). Sounds at or below 70 db are generally considered safe. Any sound at or above 85 db is more likely to damage your hearing over time. Researchers have found that people who are exposed over long periods of time to noise levels at 85 db or higher are at a much greater risk for hearing loss.

Hearing protection is the first line of defense against NIHL [hearing loss] (/slug). With the right hearing protection, you can avoid the many complications that come with hearing loss. Can prevent hearing loss – Hearing loss is the main danger behind neglecting to use hearing protection. Loud decibel levels can break the inner ear hairs that transmit sounds and leave you with impaired hearing. Sufficiently strong noise blasts can even cause your eardrums to burst, which also causes hearing loss as well as being incredibly painful. Protects you from tinnitus sound triggers – One of the triggers for tinnitus is loud noises. Repeated exposure to loud noises can increase your tinnitus symptoms, creating more stress, fatigue, distortion, and other issues. May prevent you from needing stronger hearing aids – If you already have hearing loss and use hearing aids, you still need to take precautions to protect your remaining hearing. Your hearing can be further damaged by loud noises, which may require you to have stronger hearing aids to match your new level of hearing loss.

Types Of Hearing Protection

Hearing protection comes in all shapes and sizes. No matter what form it takes, this protection is there to keep your hearing safe from loud and/or explosive sounds. Depending on your needs, different types of hearing protection will be right for you.

  • Foam Earplugs The most commonly recognized form of hearing protection is foam earplugs. They often come in packs and usually for less than a dollar. Foam earplugs can be easily squished down to fit into most people’s ears and provide cheap and disposable hearing protection. One of the main deficiencies of foam earplugs is that your ear will not be protected if the earplugs are not inserted deep enough into the ear canal. They also only protect the ear canal. This means the earplugs will protect the eardrum, but sound can still travel through the bones that surround the ear and damage your hearing.

  • Impulse Earplugs Offering better protection than foam earplugs are impulse earplugs. This type of hearing protection offers both passive and active protection. The passive protection will keep out constant loud noises, such as power tool noises, and the active protection blocks blasts of noise, like gunshots. Impulse earplugs cost a little more than foam earplugs but not by much.

    You can still hear ambient, quieter noises, which makes impulse earplugs more versatile than foam earplugs. However, this style of hearing protection also only protects the ear canal and not the sound-transmitting bones around your ear.

  • Electronic Earplugs

    There are several styles of electronic earplugs, from hearing aid-shaped ones to small earbud-shaped earplugs. These are one of the most expensive options when it comes to safeguarding your hearing as they offer some of the best and most customizable protection.

    With these earplugs, you can tune into particular frequencies and maintain greater situational awareness as you can be tuned into softer frequencies. Due to their shape, electronic earplugs also only protect the ear canal and not the sound-transmitting bones around the ears.

  • Earmuffs

    Using hard shell earmuffs is an excellent way to protect both your ear canals and the sound-transmitting bones around your ears. They can also be paired with earplugs for an additional layer of protection. However, a major drawback of earmuffs is that they block out all sounds, which may not be ideal for a hunter. Also, this style of ear protection may be in the way of other pieces of headgear.

  • Electronic Earmuffs

    Like electronic earplugs, electronic earmuffs will block out loud noises while amplifying other sounds, like an animal moving through the brush. Also, they protect all parts of your ear, not just the ear canal. The only potential drawback is that some hunters may not like how the electronic earmuffs are in the way of wearing other pieces of headgear.

Who Can Benefit From Using Hearing Protection

We all encounter circumstances where we can benefit from hearing protection, such as when fireworks are lit off on the Fourth of July. But those who consistently exposed to loud sounds can particularly benefit from investing in hearing protection.

  • Construction workers – Power tools of all varieties operate around 110 dB and above. Noise-canceling hearing protection is important for those who regularly operate power tools so that they can be protected from loud sounds but still hear communications from coworkers and supervisors.

  • Musicians and regular concert-goers – Music lovers and makers need to take care when surrounded by high-powered amps. While amps are great at filling areas with music, they also output around 120 dB or more depending on the type of music being performed. Impulse or electronic earplugs would be best in these circumstances, as they will still allow some sound through but not the more dangerous decibel levels.

  • Hunters and gun range enthusiasts – Guns, from handguns to rifles, can emit sounds between 140-190 dB. Most gun ranges enforce a hearing protection policy, but those who go shooting on private land can skip on using hearing protection. Hunters also often skip out on hearing protection, thinking it will keep them from hearing the sounds of nature around them. But, exposure to noises at these decibel levels can quickly damage their hearing.

  • Swimmers – While swimmers may not need protection from noise, regular swimmers can develop swimmer’s ear, where water becomes trapped. This trapped water can create painful pressure and breed bacteria, causing ear infections. Multiple ear infections can scar the eardrum and lead to hearing loss. With hearing protection, swimmers can prevent this problem.

Our hearing instrument specialist can help you determine what type of hearing protection is best suited to your circumstances. Whether you are a hunter, musician, or engage in any high-decibel pursuits, we can help you keep your hearing intact.   Contact us today to set up an appointment to work with our hearing specialist today.