Public health authorities estimate that approximately 26 million men, women and children throughout the U.S. are impacted by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise-induced hearing loss is brought on by contact with unsafe sound levels of 85 decibels (dB) or higher, and can be either temporary or permanent. For reference, steady noises including city traffic are around this level, and guns, firecrackers and motorcycles can be over 120 decibels. Luckily, there are numerous styles of hearing protection devices available at your local hardware or sports store to match the different sound levels in many different conditions.
The rating system for hearing protection. In the US, all products are given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) based on a standard system for measuring the amount of protection they offer the user. The NRR system provides ratings from 0 to 33 dB, with the higher numbers indicating a higher level of protection.
Comparing Earmuffs and Earplugs
Electronic earmuffs – Electronic earmuffs cover the entire ear with a soft insulating material and, while many varieties look the same to non-electronic earmuffs, they are actually very different. Certain units are precisely constructed to protect police, hunters or military personnel against the noise of firearms. Other models come with a built-in 2-way radio system that allows users to communicate with each other in loud working environments. Still others offer AM/FM radio reception, to provide entertainment when you’re performing loud work around the yard.
Electronic earplugs – Electronic earplugs offer variable protection, meaning that once these compact units are placed into the ear, they can adapt the level of protection they provide based on to environment. For sudden noises, such as gunshots or a crash, the earplugs adjust automatically. Certain kinds of earplugs can even help a person hear better by allowing lower decibel sounds like people speaking to pass through unaltered while at the same time obstructing the louder noises. Earplugs are especially useful in situations where earmuffs are too cumbersome or in conditions where the user needs protection from frequent loud noises but still needs to hear other sounds in the environment.