Ear Plugs

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Nothing fulfills the classic idiom "big things come in small packages" like ear plugs. Smaller than the tip of your finger, ear plugs can protect you from suffering through a lifetime of discomfort from tinnitus and hyperacusis. If you live, work, or even play in a loud environment, getting your hands on a good pair of ear plugs would not only protect your hearing, but also aid concentration, focus, and ultimately, your ability to succeed in that environment.

In the 1980s, OSHA enacted the hearing conservation standard, which requires employers to monitor employees who are subject to noise levels of 85 dB and above. Under the standard, employers must devise a hearing conservation program, and provide (at no cost to employees) audiometric testing, which measures a person's hearing ability over time.

Moreover, in workplaces reaching 90 dB and above, it is mandatory that some sort of hearing protection device is made available to employees. Safe exposure to noises of 90 dB is a scant 8 hours, a duration that is halved for every additional 5 db (so safe exposure to noises of 95 dB is 4 hours--for noises of 100 dB, 2 hours, etc). For a point of reference, consider the noise of normal city traffic heard from inside a car to be 85 dB.

Exposure to loud levels of noise for longer than is safe can result in a temporary onset of tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears. Temporary tinnitus can last as little as a few minutes, or as long as a week or so. If more severe damage occurs, these effects can become permanent. Another common symptom is hyperacusis, which is a hypersensitivity to sounds. Damage to the auditory nerve amplifies all incoming sounds, occasionally to the point of discomfort or pain.

Finding the Right Ear Plugs for You

There are simple precautions you can take to eliminate the dangers of tinitus or hyperacusis. Wearing ear protection when exposed to loud noise is the most direct precaution, but finding the right hearing protection for your needs can be difficult. The market is flooded with options, and understanding those options beforehand can save you time and frustration.

To begin with, all commercially available ear protection is required to carry an NNR rating. The NNR rating is good way to understand how effective a product is in blocking out sound--an NNR rating of 20, for instance, will reduce the volume of sounds entering the ear by approximately 20 dB. Understanding NNR ratings can help you assess just how much noise reduction is right for the job.

Another important factor to consider when shopping for ear protection is comfort. Ear protection comes in many shapes and sizes--from heavy plastic earmuffs to tiny, pliant ear plugs. Before you buy, briefly imagine yourself using the product. Visualization can go along way in helping you understand what you want.

Ear plugs are made with many different materials and in many different designs. Plastic ear plugs designed to simply slip into your ear are common, as are moldable ear plugs that expand to fill your ear canal. Custom-fit ear plugs are also available. Online research often yields a wealth of informative web pages, complete with pictures of the product, and manufacturers often offer satisfaction guarantees with their product. Spend a few minutes browsing around, and you'll get a clearer picture of what kind of ear protection is right for you in no time at all.

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