Paying attention to your hearing health and looking after your hearing throughout your life is one of the main ways you can avoid hearing loss as you get older.
Why do I need to protect my hearing?
Your hearing is connected to so many other processes in your brain, including your cognition and memory, so making sure your hearing is as good as it can be can help you stay healthy and happy for as long as possible.
Even though hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions, it can be pretty difficult to notice in the earliest stages, so many people let their hearing get worse without realising. A mixture of good hearing protection and regular hearing tests are easy ways to help monitor your hearing and minimise hearing loss.
How loud noises affect your hearing
Your ears are carefully balanced and delicate organs that allow you to hear even the faintest sounds and subtleties in speech and music.
This can leave the inner structure of the ear, known as the cochlea, susceptible to irreversible damage. Long term exposure to work-related noises or one-off extremely loud noises (like an explosion) can damage the cells and nerves of the inner ear, preventing them from properly transmitting sounds to the brain. Noise-induced hearing loss is permanent — you can’t regain hearing that you lose from sounds that are too loud for you.
What is a dangerous decibel level?
Sound volume is measured in decibels or dBA. Long term or repeated exposure to sounds louder than 85dBA have been shown to cause hearing loss. As you might expect, the louder the sound, the shorter the period of time before symptoms of hearing loss become apparent.1
A motorbike engine sits at around 90dBA but it may surprise you that listening to headphones at maximum volume can actually exceed this and reach 100dBA or more.
Volumes around 70dBA, such as a toilet flushing, loud conversation etc., can all be tolerated for long periods of time without seriously affecting your hearing.
How can I protect my hearing?
The best way to protect your hearing is to avoid loud noise. But we know that this isn’t always so easy, especially if you work in noisy environments like construction sites and factories.
Employers should carry out a noise assessment and then determine the correct type hearing protection needed; this will depend on several factors, including the level of noise and the amount of exposure an employee has to it. It’s also the employee’s responsibility to make sure they use the hearing protection provided.
But it’s not just work that can damage your ears. More young people are being affected by hearing loss because they are listening to personal music devices, going to concerts, festivals and clubs with noise at damaging levels. While we wouldn’t want you to miss out on gigs, there are some things you can do to protect your ears – like not standing too close to speakers or, even better, using instant fit earplugs or some custom hearing protection.
Wearing hearing protection is an easy way to help you protect your hearing. Hearing protection ultimately focuses on reducing the total volume that reaches your ears in both the short and long term without you having to worry too much about where
Types of hearing protection
These are perhaps the most well-known type of earplug. Cheap, easy to mould to your ear and disposable, they’re also very effective in blocking the majority of external noises. They have a range of uses from blocking out snoring to music and concert venues making them a great choice for many.
You can’t reuse this type of earplug though, as the foam is an excellent breeding ground forinfection, and they trap moisture and bacteria if they are used repeatedly.
Custom earplugs are bespoke plugs that are designed to fit the shape of your ear canal. Due to their shape, many find them easier to insert and wear over long periods of time.
Although they’re a bigger initial investment, because they can be reused, they save money over the long term. You just need to remember to clean them regularly.
Capsule or earmuff hearing protection
Capsule hearing protection is great for protection against very loud and or extreme short-term noises. As they cover your ears and have a band around your head, they’re more suited to industrial or work environments rather than at-home or everyday use.
Which is the best hearing protection?
The best hearing protection is really the one that you’ll use the most. If you’re not exposed to regular extremes of volume such as planes, fireworks or concert venues then a custom or foam plug will probably be the best option to give you sufficient protection, while also being portable and convenient.
How to use earplugs
Some handy tips to insert and clean your earplugs.
How to put in foam earplugs
- Make sure your hands are clean before you handle your earplugs.
- Roll the earplug into a narrow tube.
- Slightly pull your ear up and out a little bit – this will make it easier to insert them.
- Your ear canal will have opened up a bit, so it will be easy to gently insert the earplug, making sure it is well inside your ear, but not too far down that you have to force it.
- There should still be a small amount sticking out so that you can easily grip it to remove later.
How to insert custom ear plugs
- Wash your hands.
- Slightly pull your ear back and up – this will make it easier to insert them.
- Gently insert the plug into the ear making sure it fits correctly.
How to clean earplugs
- Regularly removing the build-up of earwax and oil from your earplugs will make sure that they stay flexible and effective.
- Put your earplugs in warm water with a little soap added.
- Remove the dirt by gently rubbing them with your fingers or by using a soft cloth.
- Make sure you’ve washed off all the soap, and leave them to dry on a clean towel.
If you’re concerned that you may be noticing symptoms of hearing loss, you can take our free online hearing test from the comfort of your own home. This can give you a good indication of whether you’d benefit from a full hearing assessment with one of our audiologists.
1. Ding, Tonghui et al. “What is noise-induced hearing loss?.” British journal of hospital medicine (London, England : 2005) vol. 80,9 (2019): 525-529. doi:10.12968/hmed.2019.80.9.525