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Foam Earplugs

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Foam earplugs are a quick and simple solution to the danger of overexposure to loud noises. Easily rolled up and inserted into your ears, they can reduce the loudness of incoming sounds by as much as 32 decibels. They are readily available, and can be purchased from a number of different sources, including hardware stores, safety supply stores, and even neighborhood drug stores.

Damage to your ears can occur from periods of sustained exposure to noises as quiet as 90 dB. Although pain from loud sounds is subjective, many people experience some kind of pain at about the 125 dB level. Since the sounds from nightclubs as well as construction equipment can easily reach levels over 130 decibels, it's easy to see the risk involved in not wearing some kind of hearing protection.

NNR Ratings on Foam Earplugs

Foam earplugs and other forms of hearing protection that are available in the United States must be labeled with an NNR rating, which rates their sound reduction capabilities. Some foam earplugs have an NNR rating of as little as 9, which corresponds to an approximate reduction of 9 decibels. Most industrial foam earplugs and reusable "flanged" design earplugs carry an NNR rating of 25-30.

An NNR rating of 30 corresponds to a reduction of approximately 30 decibels, which is enough to extend safe exposure time to loud sounds by as much as 16 times. For example, OSHA recommends that exposure to 120 dB sounds is safe for only seven and a half minutes. By using 30 NNR earplugs, however, the level of the sound entering the ears is reduced to only 90 decibels, and the OSHA-recognized safe exposure time becomes a solid eight hours.


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