Some people live very quiet lives. Others are occasionally exposed to hazardous noise levels. Still others, through work or certain types of recreation, are exposed to excessive levels of noise on a regular basis.
We evaluate and treat hearing loss every day. We see how hearing loss can affect a patient’s personal, social and work life. That’s why, as Audiologists, one of our priorities is preventing hearing loss, when possible.
Some sources of very excessive noise exposure are fairly obvious:
- Amplified music (as a spectator or performer)
- Power tools (drills, saws, nail-guns, etc.)
- Firearms (recreational, military, occupational, etc.)
- Airplane/jet engines
Other examples would be:
- Subway stations
- Restaurant kitchen noise
- Hair dryers
- Boat engines
Noise is everywhere. Whether obvious or less apparent, all of these, and more, can have significant consequences for hearing.Sometimes the impact of noise can be sudden, such as an unexpected trauma from an explosion or uncontrolled feedback from a powerful loudspeaker. Often there is no way to prepare for an unexpected noise trauma and the results can be devastating. More often however, noise exposure is predictable and therefore manageable. Examples would be; cutting the grass every week in the summer, band practice, or daily use of power tools. When noise exposure is predictable, whether occasional or long-term, having and using appropriate hearing protection is easy, and can greatly decrease the potential for noise-related hearing loss. Any hearing protection is better than none.
That said, we separate the types of hearing protection into three basic categories:
Off-The-ShelfMany people need to look no further for hearing protection than the local hardware store. Standard foam ear-plugs, when properly used, are well suited to protect hearing, even for fairly intense levels of noise. These are made of a foam material which is rolled thin, and placed into the ear canal, where it expands to form a tight seal. These are effective and inexpensive. They do wear out and require frequent replacing, and can be inconvenient if your work involves dirty hands (imagine compressing foam with dirty fingers and then putting it into your ear canal). These are easy to find and convenient to carry around. No glove-box should be without them. Headphone-style protectors offer an alternative to foam earplugs for off-the-shelf use. Although bulkier than foam earplugs, these can be easily placed over the ears just like any headphones (no rolling of any foam) and are immune to the problems of dirty fingers or hands. They don’t fit into your pocket like foam plugs will, but are less fussy and quicker to put on or remove. A good set will cost more than foam inserts, but they are very durable and last a long, long time.
CustomCustom earplugs for hearing protection are best obtained in the office of an Audiologist. We make impressions of your ears, the same way we would for custom hearing aids. These ear impressions are then used to create hearing protection designed specifically for your anatomy. The size and shape of your earplugs can vary from something quite small that fits discreetly into the ear canal, to earplugs that fill the bowl of the ear. The style of the earplug is sometimes determined by the nature of the environment in which it is to be used. The same is true for the choice of earmold material, which is usually some type of vinyl or silicone. We will help choose the best style and material for your ears and for your needs. Custom earplugs are easier to insert than off-the-shelf foam plugs. They can also be more comfortable over time and can be cleaned with soap and water. They can be made in a variety of fun colors for easy recognition, also making them harder to misplace. They can even be linked by a cord, so that they always remain together and can hang around your neck when not in use. These cost a bit more than off-the-shelf hearing protection but the custom fit makes them a more personalized solution over time. As with off-the-shelf hearing protection, custom earplugs attempt to block as much sound as possible for maximum protection.
Musician’s Custom EarplugsSome people have the need to protect their hearing while maintaining the ability to effectively hear the sounds of their environment. Some people who share this need are:
- Sound-board operators
- Band teachers
- and many others…
- 25 dB attenuating filters are called ER-25
- 15 dB attenuating filters are called ER-15
- 9 dB attenuating filters are called ER-9