Hearing naturally gets worse with age, but in the past few decades, there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of young people experiencing hearing loss. No matter who you are, it’s not something to ignore. Considering that hearing damage is permanent, it’s very important to be proactive and take prevention seriously. There are many different types of ear protection, each with their own advantages. Here’s a look at the risks of not using ear protection and how to choose the method that’s right for you.
The Future is Ear
Hearing loss can happen to anyone, and once it does, it’s irreversible. Although most people associate the onset of hearing problems with very loud noises like rock concerts and rocket launches, the fact is that a common trajectory for hearing loss is gradual and gained from frequent exposure to volumes you might not think twice about. It often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. The intensity of a sound is measured in decibels, and the human ear can hear up to 180 decibels (rocket launch levels). Regular conversation falls at about 60 decibels. Obviously, there are all sorts of noises that fall between normal conversation and a rocket launch, including the noise created by lawn mowers, motorcycles, vacuum cleaners and often the music pumped straight into your canals through earbuds. Many people don’t realize that it’s important to wear ear protection when operating a lawn mower.
Most experts agree that prolonged noise over 85 decibels is a problem. As a general rule, if the noise in the surrounding environment is loud enough that you have to raise your voice to be heard at arm’s length, then it’s loud enough to damage your hearing. Common sounds falling in this range include those from dishwashers, blenders, garbage disposals and diesel trucks at 50 feet. Most factory environments also exceed 85 decibels, and it’s especially important to wear hearing protection in these settings, because the noise is protracted. Sudden loud noises like gunshots will also damage hearing, of course. In addition to hearing loss, many people develop tinnitus, a chronic ringing sometimes accompanied by pain. Employers in noisy environments are obligated to provide ear protection, but in the end, it’s up to the individual to wear it.
A Sound Decision
Generally, hearing protection can be broken down into two categories: in-ear and over-ear. In-ear devices like plugs are produced in pill-shaped foam or moldable wax inserts. Pairs may be separate or connected by a cord, and they’re mostly intended for single use. Otoplastics, on the other hand, are tailor-made to fit in your ear canal, contain an adjustable noise dampener to accommodate different decibels, and can be used for years if taken care of. Most, if not all, over-ear protection options are earmuffs. Plugs are great, because they conform to the shape of your ear canal, but they get dirty quickly and have a tendency to fall out or get lost. Earmuffs usually last longer, but they do have a lifespan and should be discarded after the amount of time specified by the manufacturer. Also, although they may stay put better, they can be tight, sweaty and uncomfortable. It mostly comes down to preference, but honestly, it doesn’t hurt to combine the two.
Most people get acclimated to wearing hearing protection. They can still hold conversations and hear any danger approaching that they would have heard otherwise. The difference is that they are able to slow hearing loss or save their hearing altogether. It can seem like a hassle, but it’s definitely worth it in the long run.
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Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.