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The world in which we live can be a noisy place and there can be times when environmental sounds are dangerously loud to be exposed to; whether at work, in public events such as firework displays or music events.

Equally, with music becoming more portable, on our phones and MP3 players we are listening to music for much longer periods of the day, and potentially at high levels. Over time, risky listening habits can permanently damage hearing or cause tinnitus, affecting our ability to hear the music we love as well as conversation at home or at work.

5 ways to listen safely to music on phones & portable devices

  1. Set your headphone volume levels when you’re in a quiet environment, not a place with lots of competing sounds
  2. Lower the volume if you can’t hear those around you speaking
  3. Avoid using a listening device where lack of attention to your surroundings could be dangerous, for example whilst driving or operating machinery
  4. Pay attention to how long you listen to music at high volume. Your ears adapt to higher volume settings over time meaning that  you can damage your hearing even if the intensity doesn’t seem uncomfortable to your ears
  5. The louder the volume, the less time noise takes to affect your hearing. If you experience ringing in your ears or speech sounds muffled, stop listening and get your hearing checked

Video: how loud are your headphones?

Thanks to Hear-it

5 ways to protect hearing at work

The risk to hearing from noise at work is dependent on the sound levels (acoustic power). The safe exposure limit is calculated from a combination of exposure time and sound intensity (level). The noise level where employers must provide hearing protection is a daily or weekly average exposure of 85 decibels. Reducing the noise level by only three decibels would allow a doubling of the exposure time.

Based upon the Equal Energy Law:

80dB for 8 hours is the equivalent to 83dB for 4 hours, is the equivalent to 92dB(A) for 30 minutes, is the equivalent to 110dB(A) for 30 seconds. Meaning, the louder the noise, the less time you should be exposed.

  1. If hearing protection is recommended wear it correctly in all areas – for hearing protection to be effective you must wear it 100% of the time
  2. Find ear protection which is comfortable for you, whether ear plugs, ear muffs or a combination of the two
  3. Know your surroundings – what are the average levels of noise you are exposed to throughout your shift
  4. If the company you work for offers annual hearing checks, book yourself in and monitor your hearing.
  5. If you are worried about your hearing , get your hearing checked and inform the person testing your hearing when you were last exposed to noise and how long you were exposed for.

What to do at public/social events

  • Evaluate where you are going and if there may be short intense bursts of noise (such as with a firework display and clay pigeon shooting) or longer exposures (for example in clubs and music concerts)
  • Consider purchasing hearing protection such as earplugs prior to the event

What does the law require employers to do? Visit the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Ear protection

A wide range of technical hearing protection products are available. Quality ear plugs will reduce the overall level of sound while maintaining an even balance across the sound spectrum. This means that you can still hear everything clearly, although the overall sound level is reduced. The greater the number of decibels of attenuation by the ear plugs, the better overall protection they offer.

Non-custom ear plugs

This type of ear protection is seen as the most basic form. Plugs can be made out of:

  • Memory foam (where the plug is rolled up and inserted into the ear canal)
  • Silicone (which is rolled into a ball and pressed into the ear to mould over the ear canal)
  • Flanged (where they achieve a seal down to their tapered shape)
  • Tapered ear plugs inserted into the ear to obtain a seal against the noise

One of the advantages of non-custom ear plugs is that they are disposable and therefore more hygienic. Non-custom plugs are also available fitted with specific filters for use in a variety of situations including at work, on aeroplanes, at parties and whilst asleep. Buy earplugs for noise, earplugs for swimming, and  earplugs for flying.

Ear muffs or defenders

Ear muffs or defenders have cups lined with sound-deadening material. The protection usually comes from acoustic foam which absorbs sound waves by increasing air resistance, thus reducing the amplitude of the waves.

Custom hearing protection

Customised earplugs, which attenuate sounds across all frequencies rather than just low and mid-frequencies, can be of particular interest to musicians looking for ear protection.  These ear plugs are designed to protect your hearing, while delivering clear and natural sound across all frequencies.

Depending upon the environment you are in, different levels of protection will be required. Before purchasing any ear plugs discuss you needs with an audiologist/private hearing aid dispenser/manufacturer who will be able to recommend an appropriate product. Impressions of your ears will be taken by an audiologist or private hearing aid dispenser and sent to a manufacturer to be turned into an ear plugs.

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