One in every 10 Americans will lose some of their hearing due to exposure to excessive noise. Most of the time, the damage is gradual, not just one loud bang like an explosion but the sounds you hear daily at work or home. Each day, you are exposed to noise pollution that you probably don’t even think about like the headphones you wear to listen to music or even work hazards like equipment running. Protecting your ears from noise-related damage is one of the smartest health decisions you can make, but how do you know what kind of ear protection to get?
Doing an Assessment
It is tricky to wade through the various options available for hearing protection and find the style works for you. There are a couple of things to consider such as:
- Why you need hearing protection? Is it for work or perhaps you need them for a sport like hunting?
- The cost of the product? The pricing goes from insanely cheap to seriously expensive, so budget is a consideration for most.
- How wearable is it? If you are purchasing hearing protection that you will wear all day long, then comfort is important.
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 job-related hearing protection products, you should look for a device that blocks twice the amount of sounds you experience daily at work. You might purchase something with an NRR of 200 if your regular noise exposure is around 100 decibels, for example. Just so you know, 100 dB is about the level of a tractor and similar equipment.
What Types of Hearing Protection Devices are Available?
When it comes to protecting your ears, the most common products are:
- Canal caps
There may be different styles within each category and even some hybrid products out there.
Earplugs offer moldable foam products that you throw away or a pre-molded one-size-fits-all reusable style. There are pros and cons for both kinds of earplugs, so it really comes It comes down which one you like best. The disposable foam plugs usually have a higher NRR rating and will fit tightly in your ears, but they can be costly. They are like disposable contact lenses; you have to keep buying fresh ones.
The pre-molded style is more economical but can lead to infections if not cleaned right. They also do not fit as well as the moldable ones, so they are hard to keep in place.
Canal caps work like earplugs but come with a flexible band. Also like earplug products, they have either moldable or pre-molded end pieces that go into the ear. The band that attaches the two earplugs together lets you can take them out quickly and let them hang around your neck. They work better than earplugs if you anticipate wearing them on and off throughout the day.
Earmuffs are more like headphones, and some even come with mics that allow you to talk to other people through a Bluetooth connection. They are comfortable to wear and easy to use, although, they can get heavy and make your ears sweat. You will pay more for quality earmuffs, but they have a longer shelf life and will likely save you money over time.
Choosing the Right Ear Protection
After deciding the proper NRR rating, the next step is to pick a style for your protection device based on your personal needs. If you want something that is not too confining, earplugs or canal caps might be the right choice for you. Look to get different types of ear protection products based on the seasons, too. For example, canal caps will be less cumbersome in warm weather, but the earmuff design will keep your ears warm in the cold.
The trick is to try the different forms of hearing protection devices and see what works best for you. A person who needs something for work has different needs than a person who wants to protect their ears while they hunt or on the shooting range.