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.

Young musician playing acoustic guitar close up

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:

  • Lawnmowers
  • Leaf-blowers
  • Subway stations
  • Restaurant kitchen noise
  • Blenders
  • Hair dryers
  • Boat engines
  • Motorcycles
  • Fireworks
  • Sirens
 

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-Shelf

Many 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.

Custom

Custom 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 Earplugs

Some 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:
  • Musicians
  • Sound-board operators
  • Dentists
  • Pilots
  • Band teachers
  • and many others…
Musician’s Earplugs are made the same way as custom earplugs, described above. However, unlike earplugs which are simply intended to reduce as much sound as possible, musician’s earplugs are designed to attenuate (reduce) sound in a very specific way. Musician’s earplugs reduce the level of the sound getting through to the ear canal, but attempt to maintain the frequency characteristics of the original signal. This allows musicians to play or sing along more easily, by hearing the sound as it was intended to be heard, only softer. This also makes them nice for concert-goers. Most custom-made musician’s earplugs use filters designed by Etymotic Research, and are identified by the initials ER (for Etymotic Research) followed by the decibel attenuation of the filters. Thus:
  • 25 dB attenuating filters are called ER-25
  • 15 dB attenuating filters are called ER-15
  • 9 dB attenuating filters are called ER-9
The filters snap into the special custom molds and can be removed at any time so that the mold can be cleaned with soap and water. (The filter itself should not get wet.) Some musicians keep filter sets of various attenuation levels, so that they can use the level most appropriate to the venue. When we order your musician’s plugs, we will help you choose a level that is right for you. Although we generally refer to these as Musician’s Earmolds, the same product can be used for many others as noted above. Dentists, for instance, are regularly exposed to the shrill sound of high-speed drills, but need to communicate with patients and staff. Pilots are exposed to engine noise, but need to communicate with the flight crew and be prepared to hear radio communications. Band teachers spend years in concrete-walled classrooms with a cacophony of instrumentalists, but need to hear the questions and comments of their students. (Not to mention the noise during lunch duty in the cafeteria!) So although these are usually called musician’s earmolds, their use is certainly not limited to musicians. ​ Auditory Services will help you choose and obtain the right hearing protection for your needs. Your hearing is so important. Let us help you preserve it.