What is hearing protection?

Hearing protection refers to equipment and systems that protect hearing from dangerously loud noise.
What is attenuation (SNR, NRR)?
Attenuation is a general term that refers to any reduction in the strength of a signal. In the case of audio therefore, attenuation is the reducing (or dampening) of sound. The amount or degree of attenuation is most often expressed using units called decibels (dBs).


Hearing Issues

Why is hearing protection important?

Loud noise is dangerous and the impact it can have on a person’s hearing is irreversible. Exposing your ears to a 100 dB (decibel) noise – i.e. the noise levels of industrial equipment or an MP3 player at full volume – damages the inner ear, even if experienced for just 15 minutes. Working unprotected in loud environments for several hours at a time is even more risky.

The problem is simple: once destroyed, the microscopic hair cells of the inner ear do not grow back. Neither can these crucial tiny hairs be artificially recreated by any medical process.

The consequence is permanent hearing loss and a highly frustrating ringing in the ears (tinnitus). And the negative effects don’t stop there. In addition to reduced hearing capability, the consequences of exposure to noise include: stress and nervousness; reduced concentration and quality of sleep; degraded performance and productivity; increased risk of workplace accidents; difficulty to communicate; feeling of isolation; increased medical expenses.
What are some real-life examples of different decibel (dB) noise levels?

Decibel sound levels range widely; from the ‘comfortable to hear’ rustling of leaves at just 20 dB (decibels), to annoying sounds such as road traffic (70 dB), potentially damaging sounds such as 90 dB trucks and, further still, gun shot and jet engine sounds (130-150 dB).

Acoustic trauma and sustained exposure to noise are serious causes of hearing loss. Loud sounds can and do damage hearing, with the damage often undetected until it’s too late.

Exposure to excessive noise during work or leisure activities can increase a person’s risk of hearing loss and potentially worsen a pre-existing hearing problem. Continuous exposure to 85 decibels (dB) can have a detrimental effect on your hearing. Take for example, the noise of a street with constant heavy traffic. If the exposure to loud noise lasts for an extended period of time, the cells responsible for our sense of hearing will be irreversibly damaged. Doctors consider exposure to loud music, such as a rock concert or via headphones, to be particularly dangerous since the sound intensity can sometimes reach 110 – 120 dB. The traumatic effect of a sudden loud sound, like an explosion, can also permanently damage hearing.

Other activities that may cause hearing loss over time include: use of a personal radio/CD player/stereo at a high volume; use of firearms; operating heavy machinery; use of power tools. The good news is that the noise in these cases is usually easily managed by turning down the volume or by wearing hearing protection. Federal regulations govern allowable noise levels in the workplace, as well as the employer’s role in providing ear protection. More information on this subject can be found at OSHA. In addition to using ear protection, those who are regularly exposed to noise should have their hearing tested regularly.

Certain medications are toxic to the ear. If you have a hearing loss, be sure to inform your doctor of your condition before beginning any new medications. There may be instances where other medications that are not toxic to the ear can be substituted.

How loud is too loud?

A general rule of thumb is if you have to raise your voice to be heard over the music/noise, it is too loud. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, noises above 85 dB can cause hearing damage.

Ear protection

Since there is no cure for noise-induced hearing loss, prevention is the sensible alternative. Modern devices which protect your hearing such as commercially available earplugs or custom-made earmolds with various filter systems, can give effective protection against noise.

If you are exposed to continuous noise in your leisure activities or at work, contact us for advice on the latest hearing protection methods that will benefit and best suit your needs.