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Common Hearing Protection Options: The Pros and Cons

 

Though May, designated as Better Hearing and Speech Month, is coming to a close, there are many things you can do year-round to protect against hearing loss and maintain your hearing health. This is especially important if you’re regularly exposed to excessive noise through your occupation (such as working in manufacturing, transportation, or emergency response) or your hobbies (like going to concerts, motorcycling, or hunting).

While the damage from these noise sources is irreversible, one of the easiest ways to avoid hearing loss is to wear hearing protection when exposed to loud noises. But each type of hearing protection works differently. While the overall goal is to reduce volume, for hearing protection to be effective, it also has to handle different types of sounds or frequencies in a way that provides adequate protection while letting you hear whatever you’re listening to clearly.

Consider the pros and cons of the most common types of hearing loss available and advice on how to wear them properly:

Disposable earplugs

Disposable earplugs are typically made out of foam and are effective for single usage. They’re comfortable, but don’t offer the utmost protection in very noisy environments.

How to wear properly: Holding the earplug between your fingers, roll the entire plug into a long, crease-free cylinder. Use your free hand to reach around and pull your ear up and back to open your canal for the plug. Insert the plug and hold for about 20 seconds to allow it to expand and fill your canal. When removing, slowly twist earplug to break the seal. If removed too quickly while seal is in place, the suction could damage your eardrum.

 

Pros Cons
Can fit multiple types of ear canals Can be difficult to insert into ear
An inexpensive option May not receive proper protection if inserted incorrectly
Comfortable for long-term wear in hot/humid weather Can irritate the ear canal
Small, easy to store Easy to misplace
No maintenance (can throw in trash) Requires good ear hygine

Reusable earplugs

These plugs are pre-formed for the ear canal, washable, and made for multiple uses (although fewer than custom hearing protection). While as effective as the disposable plugs, they cost a bit more and will have to be replaced after a certain number of uses.

How to wear properly:  Reach around and pull your outer ear up and back. This opens up the canal to properly insert the plug. While holding the stem end of the plug, insert it inside your ear canal until you feel it sealing. Make sure they feel comfortable. Use the same tactic for removal as the disposable earplugs. Remember, these plugs require cleaning before putting them back in their storage case to avoid infection.

 

Pros Cons
Easy to insert/wear Doesn’t fit every type of canal (pre-formed)
Saves money and is more economical Doesn’t mold to ear
Has to be kept clean to avoid infection

Earmuffs

Earmuffs go completely over the ears, which can be more comfortable if you don’t like having something inside your ear canal. While they fit everyone, one major downside is that they usually have a lower Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) because they don’t seal your ear canal.

How to wear properly: Adjust the cups on the earmuffs so that the headband fits comfortably over the crown of your head. For the best results, make sure the cushions of the muffs form as tight a seal as possible over your ears. It’s important to check for wear and tear regularly, and to clean them often.

 

Pros Cons
Easy to wear/one size fits all Less portable/heavier
Reuseable Uncomfortable in hot/humid work area
Nothing to insert in canal Inconvenient when wearing other protective equipment (e.g., glasses)
Hart to lose Pressure may make you uncomfortable
Requires cleaning to avoid ear infection

Custom hearing protection

Custom hearing protection options are molded to fit your ears exactly and made to provide effective protection for specific situations, such as when swimming, hunting, or in the workplace. They last several years, and are highly recommended by hearing care professionals for effective protection. Because they are made using a mold of your unique ear canal, they create the perfect seal to prevent noise or water damage.

How to wear properly: Since each plug is custom-made to fit your individual ear, your hearing care professional will show you how to properly insert and remove them. We are surrounded by noise every day yet often don’t realize how damaging it can be. Investing in the best possible hearing protection available is a major yet simple step you can take to protect your hearing.

 

Pros Cons
Molded to fit the individual Requires ear mold impression
Reusable Requires cleaning to avoid infection
Comfortable
Last numerous years
Can be worn with other accessories
Great for atypical canal shapes