Complete Beginners Guide To Ear Protection
I have had hearing problems my entire life, and I was wondering how I could stop my hearing getting any worse as I get older. I realized that I do not know that much about how hearing protection works, so I decided to research it and write this helpful post, for others who are interested in saving their hearing
Ears are crucial to you as a person, and unfortunately can be easily damaged. A lot of damage to a person’s ears is permanent and cannot be repaired. This means that it is imperative to protect your ears and hearing!
The two main “fixes” for hearing are not ideal, hearing aids are awkward and can be expensive for the best models, and cochlear implants expensive and require intricate surgery
So the best option by far is to look after your hearing, now, while you still have it!
The site will mainly be focused on the most common type of hearing problem, damage to the ears from sound; however, we will mention all kinds of ear damage, and protection available briefly. Ears can be damaged by
• The elements (Hot / Cold / Wind)
• Intrusion (Water)
• Physical Damage (Cauliflower Ear)
• Loud Sound
The elements can damage your ears and hearing, especially if you live somewhere that has extreme weather. Fortunately, this type of damage can easily be avoided if you take the proper precautions and use common sense.
Protection From The Sun
The ear has a large surface for its size, and it is one of the areas that when we are outside, is rarely covered. This means the ears and particularly the ear lobes are at risk from skin cancer due to repeated sun damage.
To protect from this, remember to always use a high factor sun cream on your ears, particularly your ear lobes. A wide-brimmed hat (rather than a baseball cap) is also a good idea as it means that your ears very often are shaded by the brim of the hat.
Protection From Cold
Ears often hurt after being exposed to the cold for any period. This is because the ear has a large number of nerves that are irritated when left in the cold. When you go out into the cold, the ears are sometimes left uncovered, leading to this problem.
Ears cool down much faster than other parts of the body, as they are thin and have a large surface area. Also, ears do not have a protective fatty layer to keep the heat in. The nerves in the ear canal are on the surface, and may send pain signals when exposed to sudden changes in temperature.
Keep your ears warn to avoid any problems; this is best done by covering them with a hood, scarf, or earmuffs. Massage your ears to warm them up when they are cold, never use hot water to warm them
The colder the weather is, the more vital it is to keep them warm to avoid any permanent damage
Protection From Wind
Spending time in the wind can also affect your ears. The most common problem is that the difference in air pressure can cause temporary earache, which can, at times, be very painful.
Wind damage can be reduced just by covering your ears, thus reducing the pressure difference. Putting up the hood of your coat will generally be good enough, a hat or a scarf that covers the ears well also help. You can also buy good quality earplugs or even better, earmuffs, in extreme winds or if you have sensitive ears
Do not put cotton into your ears to stop the wind. This can cause inflammation of the ear canal, and cause you more problems.
The noise made by the wind is unlikely to be loud enough to damage your hearing, unless you are taking part in an outdoor activity where you will be traveling quickly, e.g. cycling
Intrusion (things in your ear)
If you ever get anything into your ears, it must be removed with great care; you may even need to see a doctor if a child pushes something into their ears. You really should not be putting anything into your ears without good reason.
When cleaning your ears, you should not be using cotton buds! The ear is naturally cleaned by the wax, that is what it is for! Trying to remove the wax with a cotton-tipped swab, may irritate the inner ear, and the bud can push the wax deeper into the ear, causing build-up.
If you do not clean the inner ear, it will take care of itself. Very few people need to have excess wax removed from the ears, and should you be one of them, you should see a healthcare professional, or buy some drops to loosen the wax. Do not try to clean it with cotton buds.
The most common thing to get in your ear is water, we wash in it and swim in it so it can get in our ears very quickly. Nature has designed the ear so that water can drain from them naturally. But if it does not, you may develop something called swimmers ear.
We have all experienced water trapped in our ears, sounds are muffled, and we get a tickly feeling inside the head from the ear down to the jaw or throat! If this happens, you again should not insert cotton buds into the ear to try to dry it!
Try shaking your head from side to side, or tilt the head so the ear is facing down, juggling the head or tugging the earlobe gently to try to dislodge any water that may still be in the ear.
It is recommended by doctors that people who play water sports, spend a lot of time in the water, or have problems with water being trapped in their ears often, use a cap or earplugs to stop the water from entering their ears
Physical Damage (Cauliflower Ear)
When the outer ear is struck, for example playing a sport then blood can pool in the outer ear. If you are hit in the side of the head, get your ears checked by a friend for swelling, bruising or a change in shape.
Blood accumulating around the injured area can cut off the supply to other areas of the outer ear. If you catch this early, it can be treated and stop deformities to the shape of your ear.
the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine found that wrestlers that had a cauliflower ear, were far more likely to have some degree of hearing loss than those wrestlers that did not have this condition.
Should your outer ear get damaged in this way, then you need to act as quickly as possible. Apply ice at 15-minute intervals to reduce swelling and seek medical advice. The typical treatment is for the doctor to make a small incision so that the excess blood can drain away, then possibly use a compression dressing to make sure that your ear heals in the proper shape.
If the injury is not treated, the cartilage will become thickened and start to look like a cauliflower, hence the name “Cauliflower Ear.”
Protection From Sound
Sound is by far the thing that causes the most damage to people’s ears. This is known as “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss” (NIHL). As we get older our hearing usually deteriorates and this is due in large part to NIHL.
We are constantly bombarded in our lives with sounds, people talking, ambient sounds like the refrigerator, TV’s, Music, sounds outside, like cars and animals, our hearing is always being used.
Most sounds are at a low enough level that they do no damaged to our hearing, but sounds that are too loud, or we are exposed to over long periods will damage our hearing, and once the damage is done, it can be permanent.
NIHL can sometimes be noticed immediately, for example, many people have experienced coming out of a loud concert and had a ringing noise in their ears, or sometimes the damage is minimal and can take a long time to be noticeable. As many years of damage accumulate, and your hearing is impaired in later life.
This has happened to me. I am now in my 50’s, and when I am in a noisy room, or someone speaks very quietly, I struggle to hear what they are saying!
When is ear protection required?
Before discussing when hearing protection is needed, we first need to get a base for how loud sounds are. Sounds are measured in decibels, and some general noise levels are as follow:
10db Normal Breathing
30db Quiet rural Area
50db Conversation at home
60db Background Music
70db Vacuum Cleaner
80db Washing Machine
90db Subway Train
100db Jack Hammer
110db Live Concert
Decibels are on an exponential scale, so that a 70db noise is twice as loud as a noise of 60db. And noise of 50db is a quarter as loud as a noise of 70db
Ear damage is caused by loud noises. There is a combination of factors that need to be considered when thinking about the amount of damage that can be generated; these are:
• How loud the sound is
• The duration of the noise
• How far you are from the sound
When is ear protection required?
This will, of course, depend on the hearing of the individual and their age, but in general:
90db – Is the limit for an 8 hour days exposure with hearing protection
100db – A maximum exposure of 15 minutes is recommended
110db – an exposure of more than 1 minute can lead to permanent hearing damage
Law and Hearing Protection
When working, the law in most countries require employers to protect the hearing of employees in noisy environments. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that:
• Employees understand the dangers of loud noise
• Have adequate signage in loud areas
• Provide suitable hearing protection devices
• Have a policy that hearing devices must be worn
For example in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that
“The Occupational Noise Exposure Standard (1910.95) requires the employer to provide hearing protectors to all general industry employees exposed to an 8-hour TWA of 85 decibels at no cost to the employees. This requirement is explicit in the noise standard. The issues being addressed in the proposed revision of 1910.132 for personal protection equipment would not affect or in any way change provisions in existing OSHA standards that address who is to pay for particular PP.”
And in the European Union, the rules are very similar
“It sets exposure limit values and exposure action values with respect to the daily and weekly noise exposure level as well as peak sound pressure. The exposure limit values fixed at 87 decibels shall take into account the attenuation provided by personal protective equipment (hearing protectors) worn by the workers. The exposure action value is fixed at 80 decibels (lower value) and 85 decibels (upper value).”
The laws in most countries are very similar; the employer must ensure that the employees hearing is protected. Following this law should not be overly expensive for the employers, however as hearing damage is usually permanent, not following these rules will possibly lead to some costly lawsuits!
How to repair hearing loss?
Sometimes hearing loss can be caused by blockages in the ear. This type of hearing loss can be fixed. Examples of these type of blockage are:
• Foreign object in the ear (usually occurs in children)
• Wax Build-up,
• Growths in the ear
You can get drops from a pharmacy to help remove the build-up of wax. For all other problems, or if the drops do not work, you should see a medical professional, do not try to remove the objects, or put things in your ears yourself!
Most other hearing loss is permanent, and cannot be easily repaired, however the problems cause can be overcome in most cases with hearing aids.
A hearing aid at the most basic level, is a device attached to the ear with a microphone that picks up noises, and a speaker that increases there volume and plays them into your ear. Meaning that the sounds are louder and more precise, enabling you to hear them more clearly.
Factors Affecting Hearing Protection Type To Use
There are several types of hearing device, the ones that are suitable for your situation depend on several factors:
• Volume of noise
Volume Of The Noise
Different types of protection are needed depending on the kind of noise, for example, short, loud noise, e.g. a gunshot, requires different protection from a more prolonged quieter noise, e.g., a leaf blower.
Some noises may require more than one type of protection for the person being exposed, due to its volume and length of exposure to it, e.g. jet aircraft
You may need to be able to hear when you have the protection on. This may be because you need to communicate with your work colleagues, or there is the possibility of danger around you, if for example, you are hunting.
In this case, you need something that will reduce the loud noises around you, without blocking all of the quieter sounds, and talking that is also occurring.
The environment that you are in will also significantly affect the hearing protection devices that are available to you. For example, if you are in a wet environment, or outside where it may start raining, some of the electronic devices may not be ideal.
Types Of Ear Protection Device
Foam Ear Plugs
These are single use and cheap. They are ideal for a visitor, or someone visits a loud area, and they do not need to use ear protection many times.
The disadvantage is that they can irritate the ear, and hands must be clean when inserting them, as dirt and bacteria can easily stick to them when putting them into the ears
These are better and more hygienic than the foam earplugs above. Form a better seal and can completely block out noise from the outside world. So give better protection
These again are single use, and are a little more expensive than the foam earplugs
These earplugs can be cleaned and reused (by the same person). The silicone putty molds to the contours of the ear to give a better noise reduction and a better fit. These can also prevent water from entering the ears
These are the most expensive type of earplug, but as they are reusable, this bringsthe price down.
Earmuffs for ear protection tend to look like large music headphones. They rest over the ears instead of being inserted into the ears. This means that they are hygienic and reusable. They are simple to put on and take off, as they are not inserted into the ear
Quality earmuffs are more expensive. However, they can be used for a long time, so work out cheaper in the long run. As they do not go into your ear, they do not stop as much sound as the earplugs do. These can be used with earplugs in very noisy environments to give double protection
Electronic Hearing Protection
These devices are far more expensive than the passive devices above. They can be used again for a long time, reducing the total cost. The electronics are used to amplify the low sounds and reduce the volume of the very high sounds. This means verbal communication is possible when these hearing protectors are being used.
This is very useful for hunting and construction work where there are dangers present that you may need to know about.
Hearing and Diet
Some vitamins and minerals are also required for good hearing, however taking these will not reduce any hearing damage that you may have suffered. Anyone with a healthy diet will not need to take any supplements, as you should already be getting everything that you need from your food, but here is the list of vitamins and mineral that may help according to research:
• Omega 3 fats & vitamin D
• Anti-oxidants & folic acid
• Vitamin C, E & glutathione
If you require more information, please check these references
www.newyorkentspecialist.com , article, “Protect Your Ears From The Sun “, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019
www.henryford.com , article, “Wind Related Noise Experienced By Cyclists Can Contribute To Noise Induced Hearing Loss”, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019
www.nidcd.nih.gov , article, “Noise Induced Hearing Loss”, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019
www.osha.gov , article, “US Hearing Laws”, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019
osha.europa.eu , article, “EU Hearing Laws”, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019
www.audicus.com , article, “5 Vitamins For Hearing “, retrieved on, Mon 01-July-2019