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How Hearing Protection Prevents Hearing Loss

ear plugs with orange foam and blue cord

Hearing loss can take place at any time in a child or adult’s life. It can be caused by long term exposure to loud noises, as well as health conditions. Research shows that over 29 million individuals in the United States alone have partial hearing loss in both ears. Hearing protection can help reduce the impact of hearing loss, by helping the ear filter out loud noises. 

How Do Loud Noises Cause Hearing Loss?

Prolonged exposure to loud noises damages the part of the ear called the cochlea. The cochlea contains hair cells, which help the brain detect sounds. Noises over 85 decibels can overstress these hair cells, causing them to bend. If you are only exposed to loud noise for a short time – like a concert – hearing loss will be temporary.

The hair cells will gradually straighten and hearing should return to normal. If constantly prolonged to loud noises, the hair cells might die, causing permanent hearing damage. Constantly hearing loud noises can also permanently damage nerves and membranes in the ear, increasing the chances of hearing loss.

How Does Hearing Protection Prevent This?

Hearing protection prevents hearing loss by softening the noise that reaches the hair cells. Ear defenders will reduce the impact of higher decibel sounds, making it less likely the hair cells will bend or die. Ear defenders will help filter out the noisier sounds, while allowing softer sounds to pass through. This allows for the wearer to engage in conversation while reducing the impact of loud sounds. 

You can tell how effective the hearing protection is by the noise reduction rating (NRR). The noise reduction rating is how effective the ear defenders are in reducing sounds. This rating is determined by how many decibels the noise is reduced by. If a pair of earmuffs had a noise reduction rating of 30, it means that any incoming sounds are reduced by 30 decibels. A hearing health professional is best placed to advise on the type of hearing protection and the noise reduction rating.

What Types of Hearing Protection Helps Prevent Hearing Loss?

There are many different forms of hearing protection available to reduce the chance of hearing loss:

  • Noise reducing or cancelling headphones: Noise reducing headphones help to reduce the higher frequency sounds entering the ear. They are useful when working in environments which require conversation to be heard. Noise cancelling headphones are advisable when listening to music, as they will muffle external noise and prevent the wearer from relying on the volume of the music to drown out background sounds.
  • Earmuffs: Earmuffs create a seal between the earmuffs and the head. They may use fluid or foam in the ear defenders themselves to create a buffer between the ear and the incoming sound. 
  • Earplugs: Earplugs fit directly into the ear and are available in foam or pre-molded form. They can be reusable or disposable, and the type depends on their use. For example, the user may be a musician, swimmer, hunter or simply trying to sleep.

There are many types of hearing protection available, and a hearing health professional will be able to explain the best options to prevent hearing loss. Talk to a hearing care provider today for more information.