Noise Induced Hearing Loss and Its Prevention (cont.)

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How effective are hearing protection devices?

Hearing protection devices decrease the intensity of sound that reaches the eardrum. They come in two forms: earplugs and earmuffs. Earplugs: Earplugs are small inserts that fit into the outer ear canal. To be effective they must totally block the ear canal with an air-tight seal. They are available in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit individual ear canals and can be custom made. For people who have trouble keeping them in their ears, they can be fitted to a headband. Earmuffs: Earmuffs fit over the entire outer ear to form an air seal. They are held in place by an adjustable band. Earmuffs must be snugly sealed so the entire circumference of the ear canal is blocked.

Properly fitted earplugs or muffs reduce noise by 15 to 30 dB of sound. The better earplugs and earmuffs are approximately equally effective in sound reduction. However, earplugs are better protection against low frequency noise(such as noise from a jackhammer), and earmuffs are better protection against high frequency noise (such as noise from an airplane taking off). For high frequency sounds, think of the high-pitched treble keys of the piano, whereas for low frequency sounds, think of the low- or deep-pitched bass keys of the piano.

Simultaneous use of earplugs and muffs usually adds 10 to 15 dB more protection than either used alone. Combined use should be considered when the noise exceeds 105 dB. It is important to understand that ordinary cotton balls or tissue paper wads stuffed into the ear canals are very poor protectors since they only reduce noise by approximately 7 dB.

Excessive noise exposure may occur at live rock concerts as well as in more intimate venues for music whenever amplification is utilized. The damage to hearing from music is every bit as permanent as that incurred by other means. As a matter of fact, special high-fidelity earplugs have been developed specifically for such situations and are being utilized by musicians and professional sound engineers. These earplugs are specially designed to eliminate the so-called plugged (occluded) ear effect and to maintain an even reduction of sound across the frequency range. Otherwise, when the ear is plugged, the plugged ear effect makes one's voice sound more bass, or deeper, and louder. Try it by occluding your ear(s) (gently) with your finger, and speak. You'll hear the plugged ear effect.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/17/2014

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