Hearing Protection

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Hearing protection--commonly seen in the forms of over-the-counter foam earplugs or wax earplugs--seems to be one of the most under-appreciated preventative health measures out there. Despite being widely available, cheap, and effective, common hearing protection devices are often disregarded. In many occupations, and in many forms of recreation, however, decibel levels are high enough to cause tinitus or some other form of inner ear damage, and effective earplugs may be the answer.

In 1983, OSHA set the low end of their decibel monitoring requirements at 90 decibels. This means that over the course of an average, eight-hour day, dB levels above 90 dB are considered damaging to the human ear. These days, audiologists across the country are raising their own racket, clamoring for OSHA to reduce that rating to 85 dB. You may be surprised to learn that 85 dB isn't as loud as it sounds--the hum of an average day downtown, heard from inside a car, can easily reach 85 decibels.

So Why Is Hearing Protection Sometimes Disregarded?

Oftentimes, the most painful frequencies to hear at high volumes are high frequencies. Foam and wax earplugs drastically reduce the amount of high frequency waves that reach the inner ear, eliminating the pain of most loud noises. Also eliminated, though, is normal speech, which consists mostly of high frequency sounds. Professionals, for whom clarity of communication has the highest importance, may reject certain kinds of earplugs due to the decrease in speech clarity. Not all earplugs are equal though, and finding what's right for you to protect your hearing is definitely worth it.

Also, if you live, work, or play in a loud environment, it pays to get your hearing checked out regularly. Most audiologists recommend getting checked out at least once a year. Damage to your hearing may be subtle and unrecognizable at first, but long-term damage could be very detrimental. Remember, prevention is the best medicine.

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