Exposure to loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss in adults. Known as noise induced hearing loss, it is the second most common form of sensorineural hearing loss after age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). It can happen in both recreational and occupational environments like working in a factory or attending a music festival.
Noise induced hearing loss predominantly occurs over time as we are exposed to more and more noise pollution (noisy environments). However, young adults and teenagers are now being exposed to more noise pollution at a younger age with the proliferation of earbuds, headphones and smart devices. Noise in bars, restaurants, construction sites, concerts and headphones can all cause permanent damage to your ears and cause hearing loss. Noise pollution is growing global health concern, but it is 100 percent preventable.
Having proper ear protection and managing your hearing health is incredibly important as it has been associated with cognitive decline, isolation, depression, heart problems and other hearing issues like tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life.
When it comes to loud environments, there are several ways to protect your ears. We’ve created a list of some ear protection options that you can consider using before attending loud and noisy events and environments.
Disposable Ear Protection
This type of earplug is disposable and is made of material designed to expand and adjust to the shape of your ear canal. This ensures that the earplug properly blocks out unwanted noise.
To safely use this type of ear protection, you’ll need to roll the expandable earplugs into a thin cylinder before inserting them about halfway into your ear. Be careful not to insert them too far into the canal and be sure to always follow the directions on the packaging as they can vary slightly depending on the brand.
These earplugs are affordable and easy to find, but you will need to be careful when using them. Make sure your hands are clean when you roll them so you don’t get dirt in your ears and risk infection. This can be a challenge in certain situations when you need ear protection. This type of ear protection is very cost effective and can be purchased at your local pharmacy, recreational equipment retailer and various other retail outlets. They come in various quantities, however, you can usually find a package of 50 earplugs for less than $10.
Mack's Foam Earplugs
Reusable Ear Protection
This type of ear protection is usually made of plastic, rubber or silicone and made as a “one size fits all” standard and may be available in several sizes depending on the brand. The fit is critical. To properly use this type of reusable earplug, you must be sure that it fits into the ear canal snuggly without causing discomfort. You may have to try various sizes to find a fit that best suits you.
Inserting this type of ear protection is a bit different. Once you have found the size that works best for you, you’ll want to reach over your head with one hand to pull up on your ear. Use your other hand to insert the plug with a gentle rocking motion until you have sealed the ear canal.
Advantages of pre-molded plugs are that they are relatively inexpensive, reusable, washable, convenient to carry, and come in a variety of sizes. Nearly everyone can find a plug that will be comfortable and effective. These earplugs are also relatively inexpensive, reusable, washable and are easy to carry with you in case you find yourself in a situation where you need them.
3M Pre-Molded Earplugs
Custom Fit Earplugs
There are several types of custom fit earplugs for better ear protection and they are available in a variety of models depending on the use case. Some earplugs have filters that allow safe and normal sound levels to pass through the earplug and canal while blocking others that may cause harm to your hearing.
Custom fit earplugs can provide the most effective ear protection with the most comfortable fit. They are made from an impression of your ear and require a visit to a hearing health professional. The custom mold will seal the ear, reducing the volume of sound that can pass through the ear canal. Custom fit earplugs for musicians for instance, reduce the overall volume of the music that is being played or heard, but still maintains the sound quality of the music. This allows musicians to have better ear protection without losing the sound experience. They come in various filters allowing you to suppress the volume by up to 25 decibels in most cases. The big downside to these earplugs is that they require a visit to a hearing health professional and usually cost between $200 and $500 per pair.
EarPeace Custom Fit Earplugs
Decibullz Custom Molded Earplugs
Canal caps are similar to earplugs except that they are attached to a flexible material that allow them to be worn around the neck when they are not in use. This allows you to be able to take them off when there is less noise and quickly put them back on when you are around loud noise. The earplug tips of canal caps may be made of material that forms to your ears like the disposable earplugs or be pre-molded like the ones that are reusable.
Like the other earplugs, fit, comfort and following the directions on the packaging are crucial in ensuring that they provide the ear protection you want and need. Canal caps are relatively inexpensive at about $20 to $40 depending on the brand and style.
Moldex Canal Caps
Earmuffs come in many sizes and models. There really is something for everyone with this option. Earmuffs completely block the inner and outer ear by covering the entire ear. There are several variations of thickness and ear protections depending on how much protection you need.
The best ear protection happens when you form a good protective seal around the ear. Be sure that the seal around the ear is complete and not broken by glasses or other objects over the ear. A common downside to earmuffs is that they can make you hot or cause discomfort. Earmuffs range in price, but are relatively inexpensive at between $15 and $50.
When it comes to hearing protection, comfort and fit are critical in protecting yourself from hearing loss and tinnitus. Different types of ear protection are better suited for certain situations. I don’t think I would want to wear earmuffs in a nightclub or a hot factory, but may want them if I am at an outdoor fireworks show during the winter. Disposable earplugs that you roll aren’t ideal for a construction site. Think about when you and how you will be using your hearing protection and then try different variations until you find one that’s best for your needs.
AudioCardio is a technology company in the hearing health and wellness industry. AudioCardio aims to maintain and strengthen hearing using inaudible and personalized sound therapies from a mobile app. Learn more about AudioCardio at www.audiocardio.com
American Family Physician
Protecting your hearing
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety