Being exposed to loud noises can result in hearing loss. As the loudness of a sound increases, the amount of time you can safely listen to the sound decreases. One way to protect your hearing is to wear hearing protectors, which reduce the loudness of the sound.
Hearing protectors are especially important for those who work in harmful noise situations every day. Harmful noise is any sound over 85 decibels. The noise found in the construction industry and in machine shops is often at this volume. Wearing hearing protectors increases the amount of time you can safely work in these types of situations.
The two main types of hearing protectors are earplugs and earmuffs.
- Earplugs come in different sizes and should fit snugly into the outer ear canal. For people who need them frequently (such as people who are regularly exposed to job-related noise), they can be custom-made for a better fit. You also can buy disposable earplugs.
- Earmuffs cover both ears entirely. When they fit properly and are held in place by a headband, they form an air-seal that reduces the volume of sound entering the ears.
You can reduce sound by up to 30 decibels (dB) when you wear well-fitted hearing protectors. They are most effective at reducing your total noise exposure and preventing damage to your hearing when you wear them continuously throughout the period of noise exposure. For example, if you work 8 hours a day in an environment with a harmful noise level (85 dB or more), wear your hearing protection 8 hours a day.
Hearing protectors reduce the loudness of all sounds. Although there has been some concern that hearing protectors may make it more difficult to hear important sounds, such as voices or machine sounds, you are generally able to adjust to the quieter sound level without any problems hearing what you need to hear.
People who already have hearing loss may find it harder to understand speech when they are wearing hearing earplugs or earmuffs. But wearing proper protection can help prevent more hearing loss.
For more information on the workplace and hearing loss, contact the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA has mandated hearing protection for people who are exposed to certain noise levels at work. You can contact OSHA with questions on workplace safety and health, including hearing loss, at 1-800-321-6742, or find information at www.osha.gov/SLTC/noisehearingconservation/index.html.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Charles M. Myer III MD - Otolaryngology