noise-induced hearing loss

Hazardous Noise Can Affect More Than Your Hearing

By Strom & Associates

Each year, hazardous noise causes about 22 million workers in America to suffer a hearing loss on the job, and that hearing loss can affect everything from the quality of life to income potential and the ability to work. Understanding the far-reaching implications of permanent, irreversible hearing loss is critical for workers to protect their health and mental well-being.

Risk of Hearing Loss in the Workplace

Noise is one of the most misunderstood workplace hazards. The risk of hearing loss due to workplace exposure is significant. If the noise in a workplace is higher than 85 decibels average over eight hours, permanent hearing loss can occur. Even the noise from a carpenter’s shop or a farming operation can reach this threshold daily.

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Hearing Loss Affects Mental Health

People who have untreated hearing loss report a number of mental health issues. They may feel angry or irritable, and often they feel lonely because they are not able to interact with other people easily. This can cause them to avoid social situations. Untreated hearing loss can cause stress, fatigue, and undue tension. Some people with this condition also suffer from depression.

Hearing Loss Affects Income Potential

Hearing loss suffered on the job can also impact a worker’s overall income potential. When a worker cannot hear, he or she may not be able to do a job to the fullest. Reduced job performance can make it difficult to get promotions or raises. It can also lower the individual’s earning power because certain jobs require a full use of hearing to perform safely.

Additional Effects of Hearing Loss

In addition to income potential and mental health concerns, hearing loss can impact an individual’s overall quality of life. This is difficult to measure, but the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates hearing loss takes away 2.5 healthy years from workers exposed to work noises. Also, hearing loss can impair an individual’s memory and ability to learn new tasks.

The effects of hearing loss reach far beyond the ears. When workers are aware of the long-term and far-reaching impacts of hearing loss, the importance of using protective equipment may become more evident even if the sounds do not seem overly loud in the workplace.

This article was republished with permission from Strom & Associates, a Chicago-based personal injury law firm. For more, see https://stromlawyers.com.

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Veterans Sue Over Defective Hearing Protection

By Joseph Oot

Veterans nationwide are filing lawsuits against the military equipment manufacturer 3M, after a July 2018 verdict concluded the company’s dual-ended Combat Arms Earplugs Version 2 (CAEv2) were defective. The verdict in this whistleblower lawsuit, filed by Moldex-Metric on behalf of the U.S. government, paved the way for service members seeking legal restitution.  

This case began three years ago in May 2016 when Moldex-Metric, a California-based company in the military equipment industry, brought charges against their competitor, 3M. The plaintiff claimed that the original manufacturer of the CAEv2 devices, Aearo Technologies which was purchased by 3M in 2008, colluded to manipulate product tests and falsify data in order to achieve government standards and sales. Moldex-Metric was able to present evidence that both Aearo and 3M continued to sell the defective devices for more than 10 years, even though the devices were found to be too short, a defect that made the equipment difficult to properly insert in the ear. As a result, the devices were loose fitting, prone to fall out, and inadequately provided the level of protection claimed by the manufacturer.

After years of litigation, 3M agreed to settle the allegations in July 2018. 3M was ordered to pay the U.S. government $9.1 million in damages—but none of these damages compensated CAEv2 users, and 3M said this settlement was not an admission of liability. However, the verdict against 3M likely sparked the flood of class-action lawsuits filed since then.

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More than 300 lawsuits have been filed by service members seeking restitution. Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Matt Morrison of New Jersey is one such service member who in February 2019 filed his case against 3M. He says the CAEv2 devices were the direct cause of the complete hearing loss he has sustained in his right ear. While deployed between 2007 and 2013, including two tours of Iraq and one of Afghanistan, he was frequently exposed to loud equipment, machinery, gunfire, and explosions.

Along with thousands of other service members, Morrison says he came to rely on the standard-issue hearing protection as much as a bulletproof vest. "The gear you're issued is everything from a helmet to a flak jacket, eye and ear protection. I never thought that, after the fact, the gear would be faulty or defective and cause this kind of injury," Morrison told a local news reporter.

Like Morrison, active duty military members are exposed to machinery, aircraft, and sudden weaponry blasts leaving their ears susceptible to noises as loud as 184 decibels (dBA). Sounds at or above 110 dBA can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus instantaneously without hearing protection. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports tinnitus and hearing loss are the most common disabilities among veteran service members, with 60 percent of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan living with one or both of the conditions today.

Both the military and hearing loss communities take seriously all reports of defective hearing protection, especially given the prevalence and permanence of hearing loss and tinnitus among veterans. Without a commitment to strict product performance, user testing, and data verification standards, service members will remain at risk.

Joseph Oot is a writer with ConsumerSafety.org, an organization connecting individuals with information on developing lawsuits, court cases, and recent news affecting consumers. As a consumer advocate, Oot works with both individuals and industry professionals to share helpful information surrounding potentially harmful products.

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Prevent the Preventable

By Neyeah Watson

International Noise Awareness Day (INAD) is observed annually on April 24 to redirect our focus to the invisible: hearing loss caused by noise, or noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). More than 48 million Americans live with a form of hearing loss, and one third of all hearing loss cases can be attributed to noise exposure. In honor of INAD, sponsored by the Center for Hearing and Communication, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) urges the public to zealously protect the hearing of adults and children from the dangers of loud noise.

Loud noise can harm from exposure to one sudden, disturbing, blast-like sound (an impulse noise) or a series of loud sounds over time. Impulse noises include fireworks, explosions, car horns, gunfire, and thunder. These noises reach the outer ears unexpectedly before conversion to sound, sometimes causing immediate trauma and NIHL.

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Gradual NIHL, on the other hand, occurs over time. Sources include loud music and occupational sounds from construction sites or airport runways. Gradual NIHL can also result from hobbies, like playing in a band, attending group fitness classes, and snowmobile riding.

The irreversible damage of NIHL physically takes place when hair cells within the cochlea of the inner ear are damaged. This results in what’s called sensorineural (permanent) hearing loss.

Fortunately, NIHL is 100% preventable. For adults, protecting your ears doesn’t require a lot of effort. When going about your busy lifestyle, keep these simple techniques in mind.

  • Always keep a pair of earplugs with you. Whether you ride public transportation as a passenger or employee, loud noises accompany you on your commute.

  • Purchase noise-cancelling headphones, which are safer for your ears because they prevent the user from needing to raise the volume to block out external sounds.

  • Listen to music and television at medium volumes.

  • Most importantly—give your ears time to recover. Quiet time is one of the best healing experience you can give to your ears.

Protecting your children’s hearing is easy, and begins in the home. Here’s what you can do:

  • Practice the 60/60 rule: Only listen to music at 60% of the volume for 60 minutes.

  • Inspire their preference for quiet toys such as puzzles, dolls, coloring books, and building blocks. When considering electronic toys, look for for products with volume control settings.

  • Set the TV or game consoles to reasonable volumes.

  • Make sure your child does not sit too close to the television or other noisy electronics.

  • Use plush furnishings such as curtains, carpeting, and pillows to allow for sound to be absorbed.

  • Always set an example for your children. Your use of earplugs and low volumes will allow your children to learn a behavior that will become part of their hearing lifestyle.

Life’s enjoyments don’t necessarily need to be limited by diminished hearing. We all have the power to protect our ears.



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Hyped Up Now, Hurting Later

By Yishane Lee and Lauren McGrath

In an interview, longtime healthcare professional Bob Kambic warns about the health risks of the over-amplification that is becoming increasingly common at recreational events.

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What got you interested in the topic of the dangers of loud entertainment?
I am 75 and a grandfather. Recently I was in Detroit for an event in which my grandchildren participated. The finale of the event was held in Ford Stadium, a football venue. The electronically amplified sound was deafening even wearing my noise-canceling headphones.

The 30,000 or so people in the stadium were subject to what in other places would be called torture. I wondered, is there a way to tell the organizers they are harming our young citizens, the future of our country?

As a retired healthcare professional, I have a half century of experience in the healthcare field and more than 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals. This got me thinking about noise levels in entertainment venues. Raising awareness of this public health problem needs to be done.

Why is the music so loud?
Consider a musician playing an electric guitar in front of a crowd. She will hear her music from an amplifier. But she then finds that she likes it loud and turns the small knob up. After weeks or months that level is not satisfactory and she makes another turn up.

Over time, as the louder sounds gradually diminish hearing, it becomes necessary to turn the knob up more and more. For music professionals, this is called increasing the gain, which is one way to increase the volume of sound from the speakers. The other way to increase volume is to turn up the signal coming out of the speakers themselves.

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When musicians play to big crowds they now have amplifiers and systems that produce thousands of watts of power and can project over 100 decibels (dB). This technology is also used for recorded music. It “entertains” but it also may harm the listeners’ ears. Musicians and their producers know that “loudness does not equal quality”—but that caution can get lost in the need to entertain.

By 2022, live music industry revenue is projected to be worth $31 billion worldwide, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Like other industries, the money is the driver. To me this means the live music industry will continue to use larger and louder electronic amplification.

The electronically amplified sound is now also ubiquitous at rallies and sporting events, both professional and collegiate—or even younger—to hype up the crowd.

What can we do to protect our hearing, and especially the hearing of children?
Earplugs. I was happy to see an article in a music industry publication saying that the purchase of custom musician’s earplugs is one of the best investments a music industry worker can make. They didn’t recommend earphones, mixers, digital equipment, or music instruments—just earplugs. Frequent concert-goers should also invest in custom musician’s earplugs.

For children, this is a tough question because kids don’t want to be told what to listen to and how loud the sound should be. But there are a variety of products for hearing protection. The first are simple foam earplugs, widely available at hardware stores, pharmacies, and online. The disadvantage is that they must be pushed into the ear canal and may not fit all size ears. (See “8 Pairs of Earplugs in 4 Noisy Settings,” next page.)

The next step up is over-the-ear earmuffs that cover the ear entirely. They are long-lasting and work well but they are also big and bulky.

Finally there are noise-canceling headphones made by audio or electronic equipment manufacturers. I use battery-powered noise-canceling headphones on airplanes and trains, and was wearing them at the event at the Ford Stadium. You may want to explore the varying prices and technology. Many can also play personal music through wireless and/or wired connections.

Besides using hearing protection, what else can you do?
Take action against unnecessary noise. Groups of parents can petition their schools and sports teams to reduce amplification at indoor and outdoor events. Decibel meters are inexpensive or free as smartphone apps and can be used to show managers and administrators the sound level at events, and when the volume reaches dangerous levels at over 85 dB.

The music and electronic sound industry is in control of this problem because of the amount of money in the industry, but also because well-known musicians such as Huey Lewis and Eric Clapton, who are open about their hearing loss, are helping to raise awareness. Media coverage and local action can bring attention to bear, and over time the industry may become aware of amplification as a health problem for everyone, including the audience, not just for those in the industry.

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Bob (Robert T.) Kambic, MSH, is a retired health professional who worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is a current visiting scientist with the JHU Medical School Division of Health Sciences Informatics and plays and sings American traditional music using acoustic instruments.

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You Can Lead the Way

By Col. John Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

Folks like you are the reason Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has just completed its 60th anniversary year of groundbreaking work toward better treatments and permanent cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. Your donations make it possible.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Thank you for everything you do.

Living with noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus following 26 years of service in the U.S. Army, I strongly share your desire for more scientific developments — both to restore hearing and to prevent its loss.

Every person serving on our Board of Directors is also connected to a hearing disorder in some way and shares our passion for progress. It is coming. As each year passes we learn more and more about key processes in the brain and auditory system.

We’re grateful for these discoveries that bring us closer to hearing regeneration in adult mice (as human proxies for now), and toward new treatments for tinnitus, Ménière's disease, and related conditions. But we know more must be accomplished for all of us to enjoy a better quality of life.

Your generosity can make possible the discoveries we — our veterans, our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends — urgently need.

Please, if you are able, give today to HHF to fund more innovative scientists in 2019-2020 and accelerate much-needed treatments and cures.

HHF will direct 100% of your gift toward the program your choose — Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), Emerging Research Grants (ERG), Ménière's Disease Grants (MDG), or Education. Thank you for your consideration and for being part of our mission.

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How to Create a Healthy Hearing Environment for Children

By Alyson McBryde

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“How many times do I have to repeat myself?” If you’re a parent or guardian, chances are you’ve said this to your child before. Indeed, a part of parenting is repeating yourself―but what if it becomes part of a bigger issue?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated “1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound in noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars, and sporting events.”

The WHO indicates “unsafe levels of sound can be, for example, exposure to in excess of 85 decibels (dB) for eight hours of 100 dB for 15 minutes.” Exposure to dangerously loud sounds could damage the sensitive structures of our inner ear and lead to permanent hearing loss. Here’s the thing about noise-induced hearing loss: it is 100% preventable.  

As a parent or guardian, you can implement fun and effective hearing loss prevention activities and strategies like these:

Lead a Learning Experience
Look for science videos and activities that demonstrate how sound, the ear, and hearing work. Great examples include Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s interactive, captioned video, Kids Health, and The Magic School Bus.

Watch Out for Noisy Toys
A study on sounds emitted by children’s toys found “the average sound levels of the various toys were 106.8 dB measured at a point nearest the sound source,” according to ASHA. Use a decibel-measuring app to check out your kids’ toys before they play.

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Limit Time with Electronics
NBC News reports: “Each new generation of teenagers has found a new technology to blast music – from the bulky headphones of the 1960s to the handheld Sony Walkmans of the 1980s. Today’s young people are listening longer, more than twice as long as previous generations.” Remember when our elders told us to “go outside and play”? Encourage your kids to do the same.

Turn Down the Volume
Enforce the 60-60 rule: Allow your child to listen at 60% volume for 60 minutes at a time. Look into apps that allow you to set parental controls on volume levels and encourage your kids to take a break from nonstop sound! 

Beware of Noise Levels at Live Events
Did you know a live ballgame can reach 120 decibels? Live sporting events can be extremely dangerous for little ears. The same goes for live music shows. Bring along a pair of foam or custom-made earplugs!

Keep Those Little Ears Warm
If you live in a place with cold winters, make sure you kids have earmuffs or hats that cover their ears. Cold air may affect hearing with exostosis, known as “surfer’s ear,” which happens when abnormal bone growths interfere with the auditory process.

Swim Safely
During the summer, while attending swim lessons, or on vacation, protect your kids’ ears with swim plugs. Swim plugs help to prevent swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, caused by bacteria inside the ear canal, which can lead to trouble hearing.

Treat Ear Infections Immediately
Kids experience ear infections far more regularly than adults due to the size and positioning of their Eustachian tubes. Seeking immediate treatment from an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist for otitis media―ear infections―could help prevent hearing loss in kids.

Invest in Earplugs
Whether they are made of generic foam or are custom-molded to fit in their ears, earplugs are a great barrier between little ears and dangerous levels of sound. Carry a pair wherever you go―you never know when you may need them! 

Get Their Hearing Tested
Hearing health should be treated no differently than any other part of your kids’ overall health. In the same way your kids get a full physical and vision test annually, build a hearing test into the routine! Hearing tests keep track of your kids’ hearing abilities, and if anything changes, your hearing health professional can help find a solution.

Alyson McBryde leads the customer success team for HearStore.

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Suffering After Sacrifice

By Lauren McGrath

Every Veterans Day, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) celebrates the brave individuals who have served and sacrificed to defend our country. We are grateful to our active military members and veterans for their courageous protection of American values and freedoms.

As we honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, we acknowledge a tragic and troubling health problem. An astounding number of veterans—60% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—live with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. In 2017, the Veterans Administration reported 1.79 million disability compensation recipients for tinnitus and 1.16 million compensation recipients for hearing loss, the number one and two disabilities, respectively. In an HHF video about hearing loss treatment, Retired Army Colonel John Dilliard, Chair-Elect of HHF’s Board of Directors, explains, “The noise from repeated gunfire and high-frequency, high-performance aircraft engines takes its toll on the human hearing mechanisms.” Col. Dillard lives with both tinnitus and hearing loss following 26 years of service.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

Dr. Bruce Douglas, 93, remembers the moment his hearing became severely compromised while serving in the Navy during the Korean War. “On what was my 26th birthday, after pulling the trigger on the M1 rifle with no protection (none of us had any) multiple times, I was left with tendonitis in both knees—and worse, permanent, chronic tinnitus due to acoustic trauma. My hearing went downhill ever after, and every imaginable kind of sound and sensation has resulted from my tinnitus,” Douglas writes in the Fall 2018 issue of Hearing Health.

Hearing protection training must start as soon as one enters the military. But there is a misconception that hearing protection inhibits vital communication and mission readiness because hearing signs of danger is imperative to survival. “Soldiers want to be able to hear the snap of the twig and want to be able to be situationally. As a result, they are often resistant to wearing hearing protection,” Col. Dillard says.

Fortunately, sophisticated hearing protection technology does exist so that military personnel do not have to choose between protecting their ears or their lives. Examples include noise-attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, and Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, which protect against loud noises while amplifying soft ones.

The U.S. military continues to work toward safer hearing in the service. The U.S. Army has developed the Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), which are earbuds that dampen dangerous noises to safe levels using microphones and noise-canceling technology, while also providing amplification of softer sounds and two-way communication systems. An initiative by the U.S. Air Force called Total Exposure Health (TEH), meanwhile, focuses on overall health both on and off the job, will measure cumulative noise exposure over the course of 24 hours. These developments and others, which HHF applauds, are covered in greater detail in Hearing Heath’s Fall 2017 issue.

As greater preventative technology for our military becomes available, HHF remains dedicated to finding better treatments and cures for tinnitus and hearing loss to benefit the lives of millions of Americans, including veterans, a disproportionately affected group. We hope you will join us in remembering their sacrifices with gratitude and compassion.

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A Muffled Life

By Jim Lynch

A Tricycle Mishap

For a 5-year-old a tricycle is a mini Lamborghini. Whether this particular model belonged to my family or our next-door neighbor has long since faded in memory, but what made it especially attractive was fashioned to its handlebar: a rubber squeeze-bulb and silver metal horn. Jackie Gilroy and I took turns riding it between our houses for hours during the summer before I was scheduled to enter first grade. We were particularly fascinated by the sound of the horn, a noise we could make louder by using two hands to squeeze air into the metal chamber.

I can’t remember which of us made the suggestion, but one day we discovered that if we placed our ears next to the horn, the sound was louder still. Therefore, in the impulsive and thoughtless manner of children, we took turns blaring that explosive clangor into each other’s ears at point blank range for a good part of the afternoon. We laughed at our discovery and discovered that the effect lasted even longer, with ringing in our ears.

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When I woke the next morning and came downstairs, my mother was at the stove finishing scrambled eggs for my breakfast. As she put my plate before me, I saw her lips moving, but I heard nothing. I put my hands to my ears and began to cry as she tried without success to converse with me. Not only couldn’t I hear her, but I also couldn’t hear my own words, or even the sound of my crying. Overnight, I had become completely deaf.

Facing It

Over the next few days, some muted hearing gradually returned. After I informed her of my squeeze-bulb horn activity, she made an appointment for us with an audiologist. After explaining to him what I had done, and undergoing what passed for extensive testing in midcentury (I remember a series of tuning forks and having to turn my head at various angles and respond to his whispered questions), he informed her that I had permanently damaged the nerve endings at the higher frequency range of hearing in both ears. I remember him telling her that what had happened to me was akin to a soldier’s hearing when a grenade goes off in close proximity. While I didn’t suffer physical injury, the hearing loss was the same.

Even if there were hearing aids available during that era, two things became readily clear: my family would not have been in a financial position to afford them, and, given the type of hearing loss I had sustained, they wouldn’t have helped. Whatever the quality or degree of auricular attenuation I had sustained, it was permanent, and would last for the rest of my life. At five years of age, however, I was simply happy to have regained a measure of hearing. Whatever consequences suffered by Jackie Gilroy are lost to memory.

At that point in my young life, I had little trouble understanding my parents, siblings and friends who were in close proximity. They sometimes had to get my attention if my head were turned (my brothers would often yell, “Hey Beltone!”), but face-to-face conversation was possible. Even so, my parents decided to postpone enrolling me in first grade that September, with the hope that things might somehow improve before I would need to function in a classroom environment.

Starting first grade a year later, I began a long auditory adjustment that paralleled any and all social interaction. My hearing difficulty often appeared to teachers and fellow students as indifference, disrespect or stupidity. High-frequency loss also made it impossible to hear the syllables of some words, and therefore difficult to pronounce them as well.

The “ed” on the past tense of “ask,” for example completely disappeared. Sibilant syllables vanished from spoken words, and the susurration of whispers made them indecipherable. Embarrassment and mockery are stern but effective teachers, however, and they provided remarkable motivation for a trial-and-error approach to the demands of a wider world.

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And Faking It

I soon ascertained that there were many compensatory methods to bring to bear on my degraded hearing. I quickly learned, for example, that the first hint of what others were saying lay in their facial expressions. A frown, scowl or smile provided a starting point for what was to come.

Tone of voice was also a powerful indicator. A flat, staccato grouping of words coupled with a stern expression were causes for apprehension, while a soft, lilting tone combined with an open face often indicated harmony or agreement. If a speaker’s inflection turned up at the end of his sentence, he was likely posing a question.

I further adapted to a system of filling in the gaps when some of the words in a sentence went unheard because of distance, volume or pronunciation. “In what____ was the _______Armada ________ by Great _______?” From the back of the class, such an obvious question (upward inflection at end of sentence) could be understood in sufficient time by a student with hearing loss who had read the assigned history chapter. Those strategies worked with a modicum of success in a classroom where one person spoke at a time. In a noisy environment, however, sounds grew more remote and understanding more problematic.

When as an adult I had an extensive and more sophisticated evaluation done by an audiologist, I discovered that my hearing levels were 70% of normal in the left ear, and 72% in the right. Because of years of adapted strategies, however, my range of understanding registered in the low 90% level for both ears in a quiet, isolated environment.

Lingering Difficulties and Treatment at Last

Nevertheless, song lyrics and movie dialogue continued to pose problems. Because the usual strategies often failed in such circumstances, I often relied on imagination to provide meaning. With resourceful creativity, I used the melody of songs, and the tone of cinematic dialogue, as well as body language of the actors, to provide sufficient clues to the overall context of songs and movies. I sometimes think that my imagination provided better lyrics and dialogue than the lyricist or scriptwriter.

Not until 2005 did technology become available to augment my adaptive methodology. The devices I now use improve my hearing marginally, but I still rely on a lifetime of learned maneuvers to interact with others. Although the sounds of previously difficult sibilant syllables became somewhat crisper, other problems remain or were created.

A moderate wind sounds like a typhoon when it blows over the device’s microphone. In addition, ambient noise levels can still totally negate any level of discernment. At a social gathering such as a wedding reception, for example, the murmur and babble of guests make understanding people directly across a table hit-and-miss. When the band or DJ begins, I must cease conversation altogether, except to respond to the person to my immediate right or left, and then with considerable difficulty.

In the classroom, my disadvantage created a different approach to interaction with students. Because I was fortunate to teach in an atmosphere of deference and tranquility, the majority of conversations with students proceeded nicely. Sometimes, however, soft-spoken or rapid-speaking students, or those in the rear of the class could pose problems. If a request for a repeated question or comment failed to generate clarity, years of learned compensatory techniques usually facilitated sufficient comprehension.

It Made Me a Better Teacher

In retrospect, I suspect that my auditory deficit, and the changes it wrought, made me a better teacher than I would have been with typical hearing. Because I had to utilize alternate methods and techniques (with a visible keenness of focus) to interact with students, my interest in their opinions and evaluations must have conveyed an unusual intensity. As I strained to comprehend their questions, concerns and comments, my physical demeanor emphatically registered the genuine value I placed on understanding their questions and comments in class discussions.

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While a reduction in the ability to hear does not rise to the level of a significant physical disability, it changes the manner in which one must approach life. Such changes, although onerous, can also foster unforeseen advantages. My career as an educator was predicated on an adaptive approach to classroom procedure and management. Without a youthful hearing injury, I may not have gravitated toward teaching at all, or have enjoyed four decades of participation in that noble profession.

Jim Lynch was a high school English teacher for nearly four decades in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area, as well as an adjunct English instructor at area universities and a community college. In retirement, he resides in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania with his wife of 51 years and two cats.

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Eight Pairs of Earplugs in Four Noisy Settings: My Hearing Protection Experiment

By Kayleen Ring

Before my 2018 summer internship at Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) in New York City, I underestimated the importance of protecting my ears, often leaving myself at risk for damage from noise at concerts, sporting events, and other loud places. I took my typical hearing for granted until learning that hearing loss is largely caused by noise exposure and can negatively impact the brain function of young adults, even in its mildest forms. But I was also encouraged to discover noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is preventable. Earplugs in particular are a convenient, low-cost tool for hearing preservation.

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To improve my own hearing health and to create awareness about NIHL, I experimented with different types of earplugs in various loud settings. Expecting no more than a handful of foam options, I was excited to learn what an assortment of earplugs is available—each with different shapes, sizes, and features. Previously, my earplug experience had been limited to basic foam pairs to drown out my college roommates’ snoring!

I evaluated each personal earplug use experience with a 1 to 10 rating—10 being highest—for effectiveness, comfort, and ease of use. The Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) metric indicates how much noise is blocked out by the pair of earplugs.

Setting: Concerts

Just one loud concert (decibel levels up to 120 dB) can cause permanent damage to your ears. I tested earplugs at two musical events.

1. Eargasm High Fidelity Ear Plugs

  • NRR: 16 dB

  • Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 10

At first, I worried wearing earplugs at a performance by one of my favorite artists would negatively affect my concert experience, but this pair allowed me to hear and enjoy the music perfectly at a reduced volume. They were so comfortable I forgot they were in my ears! They were easy to remove using the pull tab and I  also liked the carrying case they come in, because it fits in my small bag and keeps the earplugs hygienic for reuse.

2. Moldex Pocket Pak Squeeze

  • NRR: 27 dB

  • Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 9

  • Ease of Use: 9

The triple-flange design, neck cord, and carrying case provided a secure earplug experience at an even louder concert where sound levels spiked to 120 dB. Unprotected exposure to noise at this level, which is equivalent to that of ambulance sirens or thunderclaps, can damage hearing in seconds. Fortunately, the ridged edges on the earplugs I used made inserting them far easier and faster than foam earplugs that need to be shaped prior to use.

Setting: Group Fitness

At a popular group fitness class, I recorded sound decibel levels and the results showed extremely loud and dangerous levels of noise. The average was 91 dB and the max was 119 dB over the one-hour class period. For a healthier workout, I wore earplugs.

3. Mack’s Blackout Foam Earplugs

  • NRR: 32 dB

  • Effectiveness: 9

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 9

These were excellent because I was able to hear the music and the trainers’ instructions, just at a lower volume. Less distracted by the loud music than usual, I was able to focus more carefully on my workout and form. They fit snugly and stayed in place over the course of the 60-minute, high-intensity session.

4. EarPeace “HD” High Fidelity Earplugs

  • NRR: 19 dB

  • Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 8

I was particularly impressed that this pair included three set of filters offering different levels of protection. I used the highest decibel filter, 19 dB, and found the class music was still clear and enjoyable. My only challenge was properly inserting the very small filters.

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Setting: Restaurants

When I didn’t intern at HHF this summer, I worked at a restaurant on Long Island, New York, that was always busy, sometimes bursting with chatty customers waiting three hours for service. Beyond the crowds, the restaurant had live musical performances that amplified an already loud environment. This is dangerous for workers and patrons alike. Here, the earplugs I wore still allowed me to hear clearly and hold a conversation.

5. Etymotic ER20XS High-Fidelity Earplugs (NRR: 13 dB)

  • NRR: 13 dB

  • Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 8

  • Ease of Use: 9

The Etymotic earplugs had the positive qualities of the typical high-fidelity earplugs and included three interchangeable eartips, a hygenic carrying case, and a neck cord, providing a secure and effective earplug experience.

6. EarPeace “S”High Fidelity Earplugs

  • NRR: 19 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 10

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 10

This pair was great. They reduced the noise perfectly so it was at a comfortable yet still audible volume. The dual-flange design and soft silicone material made the earplugs fit well, were comfortable and easy to use.

Setting: New York City Subway

Decibel levels on the subway platforms trains are extremely high and can cause hearing damage, especially for frequent riders and employees. For my tests, I sat inside the 34th St-Penn Station 1/2/3 subway station across the street from the HHF office, where I was greeted by screeching trains, talkative tourists, and a steel drums player.

7. Moldex Sparkplugs

  • NRR: 33 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 9

  • Comfort: 10

  • Ease of Use: 9

The Sparkplugs blocked out noise while allowing me to hear conversations and train announcements. They were easy to mold into my ears, allowing for optimal noise reduction. The pattern on the earplugs is colorful and fun, making them appealing for children, and easily locatable in your bag.

8. Alpine Plug & Go

  • NRR: 30 dB

  • Overall Effectiveness: 8

  • Comfort: 8

  • Ease of Use: 8

These foam earplugs reduced volume but the noise was muffled. Consequently, these would be a great option for more sedentary activities, like sleeping and flying, where you are aiming to block out all noise. The foam was comfortable and fit snugly in my ears, but was challenging to mold.

The reviews and ratings here are based on my individual experiences and are not intended to encourage or discourage anyone’s use of specific earplugs. High ratings are not product endorsements. As someone newly informed about the dangers of noise, it is my hope my summer intern experiment for HHF will raise awareness and inspire others to investigate hearing protection that best meets their needs.

Kayleen Ring is a former marketing and communications intern at HHF. She studies marketing in the honors program at Providence College in Rhode Island.

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