Public health officials believe that approximately 26 million men, women and children across the United States are affected by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Noise-induced hearing loss is brought on by contact with unsafe sound levels of 85 decibels or more, and may be either temporary or permanent. By way of comparison, consistent exposure to heavy traffic in cities may reach this decibel level, while firearms, motorcycles and fireworks all have decibel levels above 120. The good news is that your neighborhood sporting goods and hardware shops probably have a variety of hearing protection products available to help protect your hearing in a large variety of scenarios.
A noise reduction rating system
In the US, all devices are given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) based on a standard system for testing the level of protection they give the wearer. The rating range from 0 to 33 decibels with the larger rating providing greater ear protection.
Deciding Between Earmuffs and Earplugs
Electronic earmuffs cover the entire outer ear with a soft insulating material and, while most versions are similar in appearance to non-electronic earmuffs, they are actually very different. Some are manufactured especially for those who are exposed to gunshots on a regular basis, such as soldiers, police or hunters. Others offer 2-way communication for people on dangerous and loud worksites. Still others offer radio reception – great for doing noisy yardwork.
Electronic earplugs are small devices placed inside the ear to block extremes in outside noise, while still enabling you to hear lower level sounds close to you. In case of sudden noises, such as gunshots, the earplugs self-adjust. Different ear plugs can even enhance your hearing by making safe sounds more clear while at the same time keeping out the dangerous sounds. Earplugs are especially helpful in conditions where earmuffs are too cumbersome or in situations where the user needs protection against frequent loud noises but still needs to hear other sounds in the environment.