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How to Wear Ear Plugs

Protecting your ears from exposure to loud, noisy environments — like concerts — can help prevent permanent damage to your hearing.

Whether you enjoy country music or old school rock, many of us have attended a concert or two over the years — and let’s face it: live music can be a great way to experience your favorite artists.

But did you know that the level of noise at these events can be quite harmful to your ears?

Excessive noise exposure is a leading cause of hearing loss. Guidelines issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) limit occupational exposure levels to 85 decibels (dB) for 8 hours. For every 3 dB above 85 dB, the maximum exposure duration is cut in half. This is because exposure above these levels can cause permanent damage to your ears.

For reference, the noise you hear from city traffic while inside of a car can reach up to 85 dB. Meanwhile concerts, nightclubs and even leaf blowers can reach well above 100 dB.

“Hearing loss affects millions of Americans, and it’s estimated that a quarter of those cases are likely due to overexposure to noise,” said Stéphane F. Maison, PhD, CCC-A, an audiologist and hearing scientist at Mass. Eye and Ear. “Getting in the habit of wearing hearing protection at events like concerts could preserve your ability to hear.”

Knowing your options

Ear plugs for noise come in many different forms:

  • Custom-made ear plugs: You can purchase custom ear plugs through a healthcare professional that are made to specifically fit your ears. Audiologists highly recommend these for musicians and music lovers, because they include a flat filter that softens all pitches the same way (in other words, they won’t distort the music). They’re also ideal for those who need protection for a long period of time.
  • Reusable ear plugs: Often made from silicone or wax, this style is a cheaper, but still durable alternative.
  • Disposable ear plugs: These are by far the most popular. They are typically made of foam, easy to find in stores and convenient for one-time use. (Watch our video above to learn how to use these!)

“Ask yourself how often and how long you expose your ears to loud sounds,” Dr. Maison said. “If you are a frequent concertgoer, a musician or a construction worker, invest in a pair of custom-made ear plugs. For the occasional firework display, a pair of foam ear plugs will do the job.”

Pay attention to the “noise reduction rate”

When selecting ear plugs, it is important to look at the “noise reduction rate,” or “NRR.” This will tell you what level of protection you will get.

The NRR varies from 15 to 35 dB – the higher the NRR, the more noise reduction it provides. Concert music levels can reach between 100 to 120 dB. At these levels, NIOSH recommends exposure duration to not exceed 15 minutes at 100 dB and 7 seconds at 120 dB.

Dr. Maison recommends wearing ear plugs that provide enough noise reduction to bring your intake below the 85 dB mark (if you wear ear plugs with an NRR of 35 dB to a concert, then your intake level will likely range from 65 to 85 dB).

Of course, it can be difficult to know just how much noise is around you. In these situations, there are a number of free smartphone decibel meter apps that can help you measure.

Using your ear plugs properly

Once you find the right style and fit for you, you have to make sure you use them properly. It is common for people to place ear plugs in their ears incorrectly, which leaves them unknowingly exposed to harmful sounds.

The method used for placing silicone/wax earplugs in your ears is quite similar to foam ear plugs. For the custom-made, however, it can be bit different. Ask your audiologist to walk you through proper placement.

Don’t just buy them. Wear them.

Earplugs may seem like a nuisance, but the benefits from wearing them unquestionably outweigh the burden. We encourage you to give ear plugs a try at your next concert. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get used to them.

“It’s a good thing to buy ear plugs, but it’s much better to wear them,” Dr. Maison said.

If you’d like to invest in reusable or custom-made ear plugs, call Mass. Eye and Ear Audiology at 617-573-3266 or request an appointment online.


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