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How to Pick the Right Ear Protection

Woman with Earplugs

In the modern world, people engage in activities which could damage their ears regularly. Construction workers, people who work in heavy industry, and even dentists exposed to the loud noises emitted by their drills are all at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Even people who do not work in high-risk occupations are at risk from things like standing next to loudspeakers at gigs and listening to music at maximum volume on their portable devices.

Picking the right ear protection is, therefore, essential in the modern world to protect the ears and maintain hearing health for as long as possible. But how do you pick the correct hearing protection?

Choose the right rating

Hearing protection devices come with what’s called a “noise reduction rating.” The noise reduction rating is a system developed by regulators and industry designed to tell people how much they can expect a particular device to protect their ears. Hearing protection apparatus often come with ratings like “20,” “30” and “35.”

You might think that a rating of “20,” for example, would reduce the ambient noise level by 20 decibels, but it is not as straightforward as this. According to the Centers for Disease Control, ratings overstate true hearing protection. The CDC recommends, therefore, that people apply a “derating factor” to any noise reduction rating state on a product. The CDC says that high-quality custom ear protection should be derated by 25 percent. Generic ear protection should be derated by 50 percent. Generic earplugs with a rating of 35 should be derated to 17.5.

Choose ear protection suitable for your activity

In general, there are two types of commonly-used hearing protection: ear muffs and ear plugs. Earmuffs can offer noise protection for many circumstances, but they are not as effective as earplugs in many situations. Earplugs have a noise reduction rating of 22 to 33 while earmuffs have a protection rating of 20 to 30.

In some extreme circumstances, you may need to wear a combination of both earplugs and muff to keep the noise reaching the apparatus of your inner ear below 85 decibels.

Here are some examples of the kinds of noises to which you might be exposed:

  • Electric motors - 70 to 90 dB
  • Heavy machinery - 70 to 90 dB
  • Garbage disposal  - 70 to 90 dB
  • Regular traffic -  - 70 to 90 dB
  • Jackhammer - 100 to 120 dB
  • Lawnmower - 100 to 120 dB
  • Concert music - 100 to 120 dB
  • Jet engines - 120 to 140+ dB
  • Gunfire - 120 to 140+ dB

Gardeners, police operatives, military personnel, musicians, construction workers, and aircrew can all be exposed to excessively loud noises. Some sounds, like those above 120 decibels, are loud enough to cause instant and permanent damage to delicate structures in the ear and must be avoided. Those exposed to noises louder than 120 dB may need special custom ear protection to reduce noise sufficiently.

When choosing ear protection, it’s essential not only to consider the rating but whether it fits comfortably. Better comfort not only indicates higher protection but also makes it more likely that you will choose to wear ear protection regularly.


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