Twenty-six million Americans — including women, men and kids of all ages — have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), according to the National Institutes of Health. NIHL is a permanent or temporary decrease in hearing ability brought on by contact with an unsafe sound level (anything more than 85 decibels (dB)). For reference, continuous noises including city traffic are around this level, and firearms, fireworks and motorcycles can reach over 120 dB. Fortunately, there are several types of hearing protection products available at your local hardware or sports store to suit the diverse noise levels in a variety of conditions.
How much protection is needed? In the US, all devices are given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) based on a standard system for measuring the level of protection they offer the user. The rating range from 0 to 33 decibels with the larger rating offering greater ear protection.
Choosing Earmuffs or Earplugs
Electronic earmuffs are designed to cover the full outer ear with a cushiony insulating material, and, though appear similar to regular earmuffs, they are quite different. Some earmuffs are manufactured especially for those who encounter firearms on a regular basis, such as hunters, police or soldiers. Other earmuffs offer walky-talky style communication for individuals working in hazardously loud environments. Still others offer AM/FM radio reception, to provide entertainment while you’re performing loud work around the yard.
Electronic earplugs provide variable protection, meaning that once these small devices are placed into the ear, they’re able to adjust the level of protection they provide based on conditions. In case of unexpected noises, such as gunfire, the earplugs adjust automatically. Other ear plugs may even enhance your hearing by making normal sounds more clear while still keeping out the dangerously high volume noises. Electronic earplugs can be particularly useful in situations where earmuffs could be too bulky and awkward.