Ear Plugs for Preventing Hearing Loss

Ear Plugs – Simple Devices That Could Prevent Irreversible Hearing Loss

  Typically, there will have been many occasions on which most of us would have liked to have had a pair of ear plugs handy, such as when the incessant barking of a neighbour’s dog or the constant background droning of aircraft engines defeated all our attempts to fall asleep. Even in the relative peace of their bedrooms, many people still experience great difficulty in nodding off and are forced to resort to the same solution, while some may even require the additional sensory isolation provided by a blindfold.

It is a fact that lack of sleep can take its toll on one’s physical performance, and may even lead to illness. However, this can be equally true of noise per se, when an individual is repeatedly exposed to high-volume sounds for a prolonged period. Unfortunately, such conditions are common in the workplace where, were it not for the protection provided by ear plugs, the condition known as noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL would be even more widespread.

In practice, a normal conversation takes place at a level of around 60 decibels. At an ambient noise level of just 25 dB more than this, continued exposure will eventually result in permanent hearing loss. The louder the noise, the less exposure will be required and because the process is cumulative, each additional exposure will lead to an increased degree of deafness.

Excessive noise, therefore, is far more than an annoyance or a distraction; it carries the risk of permanent disability, and has become the most common source of industrial injury and claims for compensation. Ironically, the correct use of suitable ear plugs by those such as miners, construction workers, and others who are required to earn their living in consistently noisy environments could go a long way towards eliminating this debilitating condition.

Bearing in mind that a recent survey conducted in the United States found that almost one in four of its citizens aged between 20 and 68 showed features suggestive of NIHL in one or both ears, the problem is clearly a serious one. It also showed that NIHL is far from being unique to the workplace where legislation now makes it mandatory for those at risk to be issued with some form of auditory protection, such as ear plugs. To protect the general public, consistently exposed to traffic noise, the sounds of roadworks, and similar sources, however, there is no such safety legislation in place.

While the idea of blocking the auditory canal in order to exclude the loud noises that threaten one’s hearing is a good idea, doing so can also make it impossible to hold a conversation without unblocking them and, in doing so, risking re-exposing oneself to the risk NIHL. For this reason, it is totally impractical for those at risk to make use of the type of ear plugs normally worn by light sleepers or swimmers who wish to minimise the risk of an ear infection. In practice, many of these over-the-counter products will not provide the tight seal needed to exclude louder sounds, while those that do, then make communication difficult.

If they are to provide the wearer with sufficient protection against exposure to dangerous levels of noise, yet still permit him or her to communicate with a supervisor or co-worker, there are two features that will be essential when attempting to identify the most suitable product. Firstly, to achieve the efficient seal required, any ear plugs chosen should be moulded to match precisely the contours of each ear canal of each individual who will be required to wear them. This means the supplier will need to prepare casts for each worker to create the moulds from which the tailored units will then be formed. Thereafter, a personal fitting and leak test must be undertaken to confirm efficiency.

The second requirement involves the all-important means with which to permit the wearers to converse without the need to first remove their protective units. This is achieved electronically with the use of an attenuator that, when correctly adjusted, will exclude the loud background noises, but relay sound of a safer volume, such as normal speech. The combination of these two crucial features has resulted in a range of sophisticated ear plugs with unsurpassed protective abilities. These advanced Noise-Ban products from H.A.S.S. Industrial are offered as part of a comprehensive hearing conservation management programme designed to combat the growing threat of noise-induced hearing loss.

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