Offered by: John Wilson, B.S., BC-HIS – Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus Center
While I have met many people who wished they had worn good hearing protection, I have never met anyone who wished they had not. Over the last 13 years I have seen many patients suffering with hearing loss, tinnitus, or both, after being exposed to loud noises in a singular incident. These incidents have included exposure to loud noises from airbag explosions, blasts from firearms, hammering on metal, musical performances, and using power tools in an enclosed space. Others have come in with the same symptoms after years of exposure to loud or moderately loud sounds in settings that include everything from dental offices, to construction, to factories, to hairdressing, to woodworking hobbies, to orchestras, to rock concerts.
Just last week a patient called and explained an incident occurred where they were exposed to a loud noise and were now struggling to hear. They had been wearing hearing protection, noise reducing ear muffs, but had taken them off to speak with a family member. After conversing they returned to the area where the loud noise had been happening, which was now quiet, and did not put their hearing protection back on. Immediately upon returning to the area, a loud noise occurred and they instantly realized they had lost a significant amount of hearing. A hearing test confirmed they had suffered significant hearing loss compared to a test just a few months prior.
When it comes to noise induced hearing loss, damage is a function of time and intensity. This means extremely loud sounds can do permanent damage in a very short period of time, while sounds that seem safe, if listened to for extended period of time, can do the same amount and type of damage. For example, a singular gunshot in an enclosed space can do similar damage to repeatedly working in a factory for eight hours a day. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released specifics regarding noise level and exposure times and when hearing protection is required to be worn.
Custom hearing protection offers a level of safety that may not be found using over-the-counter options. For many, listed NRR (noise reduction rating) of foam plugs may not be achievable in an individual’s ear given the size and shape of the ear canal. Unless the plugs fit snugly, they will not prevent sound energy from reaching the eardrum. For this reason, I always recommend wearing protective muffs in addition to one-size-fits-some foam plugs. While multiple layers ensure a greater level of protection, muffs are not always suitable. In order for muffs to work, they must completely seal around the ear.
Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus center carries multiple brands of hearing protection, including SoundGear. SoundGear comes in multiple styles including solid ear plugs, filtered earplugs, and electronic plugs suitable for everything from dental offices to military applications. Custom filtered and electronic hearing protection allows individuals to hear environmental and speech sounds while protecting hearing. The newly released Phantom now allows the wearer to stay protected, whether they want to speak to others, listen to music or need to speak on the phone, all in a custom rechargeable device.