One in every 10 Americans lose their ability to hear due to noise pollution. Often, the damage done by noise is gradual. It is not just explosions that are the problem, but more the stuff you experience on a day-to-day basis in your home or at work. With each new day, you hear noises that you don’t realize is a problem such as the headphones you wear to listen to music or sounds at work like equipment running. Safeguarding your hearing from noise-related loss is one of the best health decisions you can make, but how do you know what products offer this protection?
Assess Your Noise Exposure Needs
It is tricky to consider different options offered for hearing protection and find the type that works for you. There are a few of things to consider such as:
- Why you want hearing protection? Is it for your job or perhaps you need them for a sport like hunting?
- How much does it cost? The pricing goes from really cheap to very expensive, so budget is worth thinking about.
- How comfortable is it? If you are buying something that you will wear most of the day, then comfort is an issue.
There are also some safety concerns to keep in mind. Avoid hearing protection that gets in the way of movement or introduces blind spots. If you are looking to save your ears from work-related sounds, then have a conversation with your employer before paying for anything out of pocket. Many companies offer hearing protection as part of your benefits or at least can guide you on what right type to buy and the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) you need.
What is the NRR?
The NRR rating listed on hearing protection devices offers a critical piece of information to you. The Noise Reduction Rating determines how well the device blocks out a sound. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires manufacturers to do tests and provide rating information based on their findings. The NRR measurement is in decibels and states the maximum amount of sound that device is able to block. A hearing protection product with an NRR of 26 will block a maximum of 26 decibels.
For most occupational hearing protection devices, you look for something to block double the amount you experience on the job. You might buy a device with an NRR of 200 if your exposure is around 100 decibels. By the way, 100 dB is about the amount of noise created by tractors and other kinds of equipment.
What Types of Hearing Protection Devices are Available?
When it comes to hearing protection devices, you are typically talking about:
- Canal caps
There may be variations within each category and even some hybrid products out there.
Earplugs come in moldable foam that is disposable or pre-molded one-size-fits-all reusable plugs. There are pros and cons for both styles of earplugs. It comes down to personal choice for most wearers. The disposable foam plugs tend to have higher NRR ratings and will fit better in your ear canals. The downside to these plugs is cost. They are like disposable contact lenses; you have to keep buying fresh ones.
The pre-molded plugs are more economical but can breed infection if not cleaned regularly. The form doesn’t fit as well as the moldable ones, either, making them difficult to keep in place.
Canal caps are like earplugs with a flexible band. They also come with moldable tips or pre-molded ends. The benefits of this hearing protection device are that you can take them out quickly and let the band hang around your neck. They work better than earplugs if you anticipate wearing them on and off throughout the day.
Earmuffs look like headphones, and some even have mics in them so you can talk to other people through a wireless connection. They are easy to wear and use, too, but tend to be heavy and can make your ears sweat. Although you may pay more for quality earmuffs initially, they last longer and will probably save you money over time.
Choosing the Right Ear Protection
Once you determine what NRR rating you need for your ear protection device, the next thing to consider is your comfort and ease of use. If you want something that is less confining, then earplugs or canal caps are probably the best choices. You might even want to get different types of ear protection for the seasons. For example, canal caps will be less cumbersome in warm weather, but earmuff will keep you more comfortable in the cold.
The key is to try the various types of ear protection and see what works best for your situation. A person who needs something for work has different criteria then a person who wants to protect their ears while they hunt or on the shooting range.