Just like your heart, your eyes and your brain, there are steps that you can take to protect your ears and prevent a range of conditions which might affect you now and in later life. The ears are a delicate organ which evolved at a time when there were no building sites, rock concerts, or MP3 players. Our ears aren’t designed to withstand our modern way of life. Yet, today we expect them to deal with everything we throw at them unprotected. They can’t.
Failing to protect your ears can result in hearing loss and tinnitus – a condition where a person hears persistent noises with no external cause. Both of these conditions can have severe ramifications on quality of life, so they’re worth avoiding if at all possible. The good news is that protecting your ears is relatively straightforward. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of wearing hearing protection.
Modern hearing protection devices come in two general forms: earmuffs and earplugs. Earmuffs look a bit like headphones and cover the exterior of the ear with sound dampening material. Earplugs, on the other hand, plug directly into the ear canal and do not hook over the head.
Earmuffs usually have a noise reduction rating between 20-30. A rating of 30, for instance, is the claim made by the manufacturer that the earmuffs can reduce the volume of sound reaching the inner ear by 30 decibels.
Earplugs often have a slightly higher noise reduction rating, especially those which are custom made for the wearer. Noise reduction ratings can range from 22-32.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that the claimed noise reduction rating probably isn’t the same as the reduction that you’ll experience when wearing hearing protection in real life. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that people in the market for hearing protection apply a correction factor of 0.75 to any claim that they read about the noise-reducing ability of equipment. So, for instance, if the noise reduction rating of a device is 20, then the real-world reduction in decibels reaching the ear is 20 dB x 0.75 = 15dB.
How does this impact on which hearing protection to choose?
Exposure to sound louder than 85 dB can result in hearing loss and tinnitus, especially if you are prolonged to loud noises for an extended period. Exposure to noises over 120dB can cause immediate damage to the ears and should be avoided at all times.
Let’s take some real-world examples. If you work near aircraft, then you could be exposed to noises more than 120dB. Jet engines tend to be very loud. Wearing earplugs with a rating of 30 may reduce the noise reaching your ears by 22.5dB. But that still exposes you to sounds of up to 97.5dB, way above the safe limit. To get noise levels down further, you may have to wear a combination of earplugs and earmuffs.
Similarly, if you work with guns (or are exposed to the sound of gunfire) in the military or police, then you could be exposed to sounds more than 140dB. Again, hearing protection may not provide sufficient protection.
Why you should avoid loud sounds
The main reason to avoid loud noises is to prevent complications like hearing loss and tinnitus.
The symptoms of tinnitus can be severe.
First, you are likely to experience a constant ringing, buzzing or whining sound in your ears. This alone is sufficient to cause frustration. But you may also have insomnia because the noises don’t tend to go away when you want to sleep. Tinnitus sufferers can also feel depressed and frustrated with their condition because it interrupts their ability to focus on the people around them or relax. It’s a constant source of worry and stress.
Hearing loss can lead to several unpleasant side effects too. Perhaps the worst is the tendency of hearing loss to lead to social isolation. People with hearing loss find it hard to hold conversations with others because they can’t listen to what’s being said. Not being able to engage with others discourages social interactions which, in turn, causes people to stay at home more and feel depressed.
Wearing hearing protection at music concerts and in certain high-risk occupations can reduce your risk of developing either hearing loss or tinnitus, and avoiding some of the nasty complications that come with both conditions.
If you want to find out more about how hearing protection can protect your ears, then get in touch with Northgate Hearing Services today on (206) 367-1345.