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How to Protect Your Hearing During Work and Play

It’s important to know the risks of noise exposure and do your part to protect your hearing.



How to protect your hearing during work and play.  That's our topic today on Ask The Hearing Doctors.



Hi, I'm Jim Cuddy and this is Ask The Hearing Doctors. And I’m joined today by Dr. Wendy Thorne, doctor of audiology with Hearing Doctors. The Washington DC area's highest-rated audiology practice with over 1500, five-star reviews.  Wendy, as always great to see you. You too.


So we're talking hearing protection devices. Let's start by, what are the parameters? When do I have to be concerned, at what level that I need to be wearing some sort of protective device?


Yeah, so what they recommend is if you are at in noise that's 85 decibels you cannot be in that area for eight hours or more without having hearing loss that could potentially start affecting you. So really any 85 decibels and higher you should really be wearing hearing protection. 


Give us an idea of what 85 decibels might be in real life something that we could kind of understand what that is? 


Yeah, so 85 decibels would be kind of like a lawnmower. So if you think of like you're a landscaper you might be mowing lawns for eight hours a day. You really should be wearing hearing protection. The louder the sound gets the shorter amount of time that you're considered safe as far as protecting your ears. You can also think of like 140 decibels which would be like a gunshot. You cannot even listen to that for a second before it can affect your hearing.  So sounds as loud as that there's no safe time! Yeah, so if you're a hunter or something you're out there and you're shooting or if you're in the military or you know that kind of thing you should be wearing some sort of hearing. Absolutely.  


Because of the different levels are there then I guess there are probably different types of hearing protection devices that would be better than others? 


Yeah, so there are a couple of different options out there on the market. There are um I think most people have seen like the foam ones that you kind of roll up and you put in your ears. And you can also have custom ones that are custom-molded for your ear, so it really protects you know any sound from getting in your ears, and then there's also the over-the-ear head muffs as well. 


Now let's talk pros and cons of each of these. Okay so I’ll just kind of throw these out and so the foam earplugs, if you've ever been to a concert you've probably stopped at the drugstore and picked up a set of those and so seems like that would be the way to go. So the pros with the foam earplug is that they're very cheap and you can get them at any drugstore so they're really easily accessible. They're very easy to put in, I mean you just roll them up you know put them in your ear and they expand to help close up your ears. The downside with the foam earplugs is they do not protect your ears as well to louder noise. Because they're foam some sound can still travel through so they're great for like quieter noise, um probably not a rock concert. A rock concert you should probably do something a little bit more heavy-duty. Earmuffs at a rock concert maybe? Yeah I mean if you're okay being that. 


Is there also an issue with fit with those foam ones that we're talking about? I mean or are they going to expand and do what they're supposed to do?


Yeah, so you know most of the time for most ears they're going to expand and do what they should. One important thing too is on any hearing protection, on the packaging, it's going to tell you what the noise reduction level is. So if you know you're going to a concert and it's a rock concert you want to get something that has a higher noise reduction rating then maybe if you're going to your granddaughter's piano recital you could probably do something a little bit quieter. Right, just don't tell her you're wearing earplugs. Exactly.


Reusable earplugs pros and cons there? 


Yeah, so I’m assuming you're talking about the ones that are like the custom fit um those are nice in that they really do seal up the whole bowl of your ear. You can reuse them. They're typically like a hard material. You can disinfect and clean them and use them over and over again. 


Am I going to an audiologist to get those? To be properly fitted? 


Yes, yes so the audiologist would take an earmold impression. I know we've talked about that before. Sure. And from that impression they can make ear protection that fits specifically just your ear, nobody else's. 


I was joking earlier when I mentioned you know earmuffs at a concert you know being silly but the reality is earmuffs are a legitimate option. Yeah! But there are pros and cons there?


Yes, so the good thing about the earmuffs is they do cover up your whole pinna, which is the whole outside portion of your ears, so they really are great at reducing a lot of sound from getting in your ears. The downside with them is they can be a little uncomfortable or bulky and they're easily visible. But for me being an audiologist, I don't care about that. If your ears are being protected that's all I am most concerned about. You should never let your pride get in the way of something like protecting your hearing that's for sure. Especially if you're watching this shame on you for not wearing the earmuffs. 


Um, you mentioned the custom ear products. Obviously, all of these are going to have different costs associated with them. Is it, so is it more important about the type of work that you do or the type of thing that you're buying them for that's got to be a factor in all of this right? Yes. Okay. If I’m buying the cheapie foams I’m going to my granddaughter's recital? Yes.

But if I'm buying the custom I’m going to my audiologist, because I work out on a jetway? Exactly. Yeah. 


And for, I always recommend too, if someone's going to be around really loud

sounds.  So, maybe it's a law enforcement officer and they're going to be at the gun range, I always say you don't need just one hearing protection you need two. And so we recommend

either the foam but more ideally like the custom mold with the headphones over it. That's gonna

you know double protection for any of those excessively loud sounds is most important.


Gosh, I was thinking you know stadium workers. Yeah. Things like that where it's and that's kind of up and down it might not be consistent but probably worth at least looking into to some form of ear protection. Yeah. Yeah. 


And a lot of musicians to we see. I mean we also sell something called musician earplugs which are the custom molded ear protection that also have filters in them. So we see a lot of musicians where it doesn't change the frequency of the sound it just brings everything down. So that they can still perform and play without it affecting the frequency of their music. They're hearing it but it's not hurting their hearing. Exactly. Yeah, that's great. 


Well Wendy, thank you so much it's uh we learned something new every week when we do this and we appreciate your time. Of course. If you're in the Washington metropolitan area and you'd like to schedule an appointment with Hearing Doctors, click the link in the description or visit


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