Ear Plugs can be Essential to Protect against Hearing Loss
Ear plugs are used by many people and for a variety of different reasons. For some, they serve as an effective means to shield them from the sounds of traffic, neighbours or their partner’s snoring that would otherwise make it difficult for them to sleep. They can be particularly useful for people who travel a lot and often need to snatch a nap on a plane or train. Other users may wear them when swimming or showering, as a way to prevent the entry of water into the external auditory canal, where it could give rise to an earache or an infection – often referred to as swimmer’s ear.
Ear plugs are also often worn in the workplace, sometimes together with muffs, in order to block out the noise of heavy machinery. However, in this instance, their function extends beyond that of merely making the working environment more tolerable for the wearer. Their more crucial role is to provide him or her with effective protection against the long-term effect of repeated and prolonged exposure to excessively loud noise. There are many possible causes of auditory impairment. These range from measles, mumps, rubella and chronic ear infections, to the side-effects of certain antibiotics and other medications. However, in our modern, mechanised world, the most common form of malfunction has earned its own title – noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL.
Although preventable with the use of ear plugs, NIHL now accounts for more than half of all cases of hearing loss around the globe. The latest statistics from the World Health Organisation estimate that total number as 360 million, which means that more than 180 million people could have actually avoided their disabling hearing loss, if they had adopted this simple and inexpensive precaution.
With the introduction, by most countries, of tougher regulations pertaining to health and safety in the workplace, industrial noise has since become less of a problem. It has been replaced, however, by a far more serious threat, because it has the potential to affect anyone and young people are now topping the list.
The idea of wearing ear plugs at a disco or rock concert may seem self-defeating, given the typical volume levels at such events. Nevertheless, they are unlikely to block all sound and will definitely prevent damage to or loss of the hair cells that line the cochlea and are responsible for converting the mechanical effects of sound waves into the nerve pulses required by the brain to interpret sound. Once damaged or destroyed, they cannot be repaired and neither can they be replaced. Muffs are an alternative form of protection but are generally less effective.
Just how effective these protective devices are, is determined largely by their design. When buying ear plugs, the soft silicone variety that are shaped to match the canal’s natural contours provide a tight fit and, therefore, offer the best protection, as well as a water-tight seal. Cheap disposables will not be as effective and there is a danger that they may be inserted too far and cause compaction of wax. It goes without saying that hygiene is important, so thorough cleaning is advisable between successive uses.
Among our other services, the Ear Institute supplies hearing protection in the form of comfortable, effective ear plugs.