Q: How and when do I need to protect my hearing from loud sounds?
Many people don’t think to bring earplugs to a concert or wear earmuffs when mowing the lawn. Yet both of these activities—and so many others—can cause irreversible hearing loss. When exposed to loud sounds over time, the cells in the inner ear (the organ of hearing) become overworked and stop functioning permanently.
It’s important for people to exercise caution when they are going to be around loud sounds. Using properly fitting ear protection can help preserve and protect hearing.
Foam ear plugs are small and light, making them easy to pack in a purse or pocket. They can, however, be difficult to insert properly. It’s worth it to watch a video on how to use them correctly. Ill-fitting ear plugs are only minimally effective. In most cases, earmuffs are easier to put on quickly and can be more hygienic, making them a more reliable choice.
The best way to protect hearing, however, is to combine the two—put plugs in the ear canals and muffs over the ears. Using both is especially important when people will be exposed to extremely loud sounds, such as gunfire.
Custom earplugs are a very effective option for those who want a reliable canal option. They provide ultimate protection when paired with muffs. Custom earplugs are made by taking an impression of the ear canal and sending it to a manufacturer for production. Vancouver Clinic provides this service in our Audiology Department.
When determining which earplug or earmuff to use, look for the noise reduction rating. The higher the number the better the plug or muff reduces sound.
People who have questions about what noise levels and exposure times are safe can check out these guidelines. It’s always better to error on the side of using ear protection than to risk lifelong hearing damage.
—Caitlin Fernhoff, AuD
Caitlin Fernhoff holds a doctor of audiology degree. She specializes in the diagnosis and evaluation of hearing loss, hearing aid selection and programming, and balance assessment and Auditory Brainstem Response testing for adult and pediatric patients.