Building a Hearing Protection Toolkit
By Jan L. Mayes, MSc
You won’t wear hearing protection if you don’t have any, which is why I suggest that you build a hearing protection toolkit today. Exposure to loud noise in everyday life – no matter how short or infrequent – can cause immediate and long-term damage. This includes noise-induced tinnitus or worsening of preexisting tinnitus. By building a hearing protection toolkit, you can protect yourself from preventable damage.
Many people need a toolkit that contains different hearing protection options to protect against different noise sources or in different environments. The two basic styles of hearing protection are earplugs and earmuffs. Because sound waves move like water waves, hearing protection must fit like swim goggles do. Earplugs should seal off ear canals, and earmuffs should fully seal around the ears.
In environments where noise can’t be avoided, children under age 3 should use earmuffs designed for babies or toddlers. Children aged 3 to 12 can use appropriately sized earmuffs. People aged 13 and older can use earmuffs or earplugs, depending on which fit best.
Choose among comfortable, good-fitting styles. Some people can’t use earplugs because of fit factors such as ear size, chronic ear infections, or lack of finger dexterity for inserting. Some people prefer wearing earmuffs in cooler weather and using earplugs in warmer weather for outdoor activities.
There are several types of hearing protection, including high noise reduction, high fidelity, and specialty. High noise reduction is fine for situations when listening and communication demands are low. High fidelity is best for environments or activities that include conversations or music enjoyment. These work by special filters or electronics that turn down the volume while allowing speech and music through clearly. Custom earplugs are available that let the user switch between high noise reduction and high fidelity as needed. Some electronic earmuffs include safe amplification.
Specialty hearing protection is the best option for certain noise sources such as firearms. Medical MRI testing is one of the rare situations when earplugs plus earmuffs are recommended to protect patients against loud noise exposure; clinics should have MRI-safe hearing protection available. Hearing healthcare professionals can fit or recommend hearing protection for your age, ear size, and listening and communication needs. Other sources include online or local retailers, hearing protection manufacturers, and workplace safety supply stores. Prices can range from under $20 for premolded earplugs to around $200 for electronic earmuffs or custom earplugs. Cost is a factor, but maybe one day hearing protection coverage will be included under are under vision healthcare.
My hearing protection toolkit includes pre-molded musician’s earplugs kept in a keychain case for each teen and adult in my family and earmuffs we can use while doing yard-work or home repairs. I have tinnitus and decreased sound tolerance (hyperacusis), so I also use corded foam earplugs for concerts, where high noise reduction is more comfortable.
With the coronavirus pandemic, more people are doing loud home projects, which require hearing protection for the person doing the work and those nearby. Although noise from social and musical activities is limited or restricted now, life will return to normal one day. Building a hearing protection toolkit is a smart prevention approach to protect yours and each family member’s hearing health from loud sound.
Jan L. Mayes, MSc, has had tinnitus for more than 30 years. She is an award-winning author of nonfiction health books. As a newly retired audiologist, Mayes continues to write about tinnitus, hyperacusis, and community noise impact on disability access, communication, and hearing health. In her spare time, Mayes enjoys writing horror paranormal fiction. To learn more, visit her website: www.janlmayes.com