Your ears are pretty incredible if you consider what they can do. They can hear a wide range of noises from a cricket in the field to the roar of a jet engine. But they do have their limits, and even short exposure to very loud sounds will permanently damage the nerves of the inner ear.
In the working world jackhammers are a great example of a really useful tool that can quickly damage an ear's ability to hear. A jackhammer working concrete is about as bad as it gets in terms of hearing damage to unprotected ears. Sure a gun fired close to you, or putting your head close to a concert-sized guitar amplifier will quickly decrease your hearing. Both top out around 140-150 decibels. But unless you are a firing range marshal or a band groupie, you aren't going to be in contact with those items on the job.
The jackhammer on the other hand is used in construction and by utilities all across the country. A standard jackhammer provides a steady 115 dB noise that chips away at your permanent hearing unless proper ear protection is worn.
Earplugs are generally foam, like the Moldex Pura-Fit 6800, or soft plastic inserts like the Howard Leight DP-AS-1 Airsoft that fit snugly into the outer ear canal. To work properly, the earplug must seal the entire circumference. It's a good idea to only use foam earplugs for one use and then discard them. Multiple uses can result in dirty or worn-out plugs that may irritate the canal or fail to close out the sound properly.
Ear muffs fit over the entire ear to form a seal around the whole ear canal. They are held in place by an adjustable band, or sometimes mount directly to hard hats. The best ear muffs will have a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of around 30, while earplugs like the Moldex 6604 SparkPlugs have an NRR of 33.
If you are working in extremely loud areas, or working around loud machinery for a long period of time, using both ear muffs and earplug protection solutions at the same time will actually improve your safety.
In an ideal world you will also be able to take steps to lower the noise level of machinery or equipment to bring it down below 90 dB. In the real world it's tough to do. You aren't going to wrap your metal press in foam, or your backhoe in pillows, but sometimes there are steps, such as installing insulation, that can be taken on the machinery side that will help protect workers who need to be in the area.
Loss of hearing generally happens over an extended period of time. It's painless and gradual. If you notice a ringing or other sound constantly in your ear (this is called tinnitus), it could be from damaged hearing nerve endings which result from long-term exposure to loud noise. You may find yourself asking "Huh?" all the time because it seems like everyone is mumbling. Either you have a teenager in the house, you have impacted wax in the ear, or an ear infection. For the last two situations, you should see a physician who specializes in ear care. These doctors, called otolaryngologists or otologists, can diagnose your hearing problem and recommend the best way to manage it.
If you don't have ringing in your ears, but work unprotected around loud machinery, like those jackhammers, you soon will. Ear protection is inexpensive, and can save something that is truly priceless. If you have questions about hearing protection please give us a call or contact us.
Thanks for reading.