What kind of hearing protection is best — earplugs or earmuffs?

By Becca Rancourt, Au.D. CCC-A

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has standards that limit the decibel level that a worker can be exposed to during an eight hour shift. This level is 90 decibels (dB) for an eight-hour work day. With every increase of five dB, the amount of time that a worker can safely work in an environment with that amount of noise is cut in half. For example, if the noise level increases to 95 dB, the worker can only be exposed for 4 hours before suffering hearing damage. However, hearing damage can be prevented if the individual is wearing adequate hearing protection!
Our patients often ask, “What kind of hearing protection should I wear?” The answer is rather simple, in that the hearing protection chosen by the individual depends on what is most comfortable and feasible for the individual. Both types of hearing protection have pros and cons.
EARMUFFS: These are the type of hearing protection that go over the ears and are connected to each other by a band that can be adjusted on the wearers head. This type of hearing protection is typically a one-size-fits-all option as they are adjustable. They are large, so they are much harder to lose compared to small, in-the-ear hearing protection.
If a worker spends the day in a cold environment, these will also work to keep the employee warmer throughout the workday. Some earmuffs are battery operated and allow ambient sound to be heard when loud noise is not present. Once a loud noise is detected, the microphone attenuates to protect the user. Some muffs also have audio input jacks to allow you to listen to music or talk on the phone while wearing the earmuffs.
Earmuffs also have some disadvantages. They tend to be more uncomfortable if the wearer is in a hot or humid environment, as they trap in more heat. If the individual wears glasses, they may be more difficult to wear as sometimes the glasses cause the muffs to not create a tight seal around the ear. Earmuffs do not block off the ear canal directly; therefore, they do not provide as good of a seal against extreme noise compared to earplugs.
EARPLUGS: Ear plugs fit directly into the ear canal and can offer a high level of protection compared to earmuffs. They are small, which makes them easy to carry around in a case. This type of hearing protection is more comfortable to wear with glasses or a safety helmet. Some disadvantages to this style of hearing protection is that they are harder to insert into the ear correctly. Sometimes you need to pull the ear a certain direction to get the plug in correctly. If the plug is not inserted properly, it can slip out of the ear more easily and not provide the proper protection.
So which kind of hearing protection is best? It depends on the needs of the wearer. There are pros and cons with each style, and whichever style the wearer is more comfortable using should be what is worn. In some cases, you could even wear both plugs and muffs!
Waterville Audiology offers custom ear plugs. This is hearing protection that is molded to your ears so you can reuse them. This is a great option for someone who wears hearing protection often and wants something small that can be inserted easily.
Give us a call today at 207-872-0320 to schedule your appointment for custom earplugs. We are also happy to answer any questions you may have regarding hearing protection.