Ear Plugs May Be Far More Important Than You Believe

Although there may be a lot of truth behind the popular image of ear plugs as devices frequently worn by weary wives who would otherwise be kept awake by the incessant snoring of their unconscious husbands, this is only one of the ways in which they can prove to be of use. Needless to say, the claims often expressed by these troubled spouses that they are in danger of being deafened by their partners’ snores are without any real substance. It is however, an undeniable fact that, today, a great many people of all ages and of either sex are exposed to the very real risk of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) from a variety of other sources, almost on a daily basis.

The association between prolonged exposure to loud noise and hearing loss was first recognised among people such as factory workers, miners and others tasked with using heavy machinery. Closer studies showed that the threshold beyond which there is a risk of gradually developing NIHL is 80 decibels and while the ear can tolerate volumes considerably higher than this for short periods and remain unharmed, prolonged exposure, even at the threshold level, inevitably leads to permanent auditory impairment.

In fact, a simple pair of ear plugs could be enough to protect those exposed in most cases. On the industrial scene where stringent health and safety laws now apply, it is more usual to provide workers with the greater degree of protection provided by a pair of heavy-duty ear defenders and, in parallel, by introducing measures to reduce the ambient noise levels.

Waiting at a taxi rank or snarled up in a rush hour traffic jam while a nearby construction worker operates a pneumatic drill or similar device could do some serious permanent damage if exposed for long, and if you live or work close to a major airport, even the tough noise abatement measures faced by airlines remain insufficient to eliminate the risks presented by jet aircraft taking off at regular intervals.

Despite these concerns, it is no longer employees who are now those most at risk. Instead it is young people that are most in need of the protection provided by ear plugs. For those aged between 7 and 20, the major threat is not from machinery or traffic noise, but from their favourite pastime – listening to music. Digital technology has put portable music devices in their pockets and, with these, they are able to pump every genre of modern music directly, and almost continuously, into their ear canals at volumes of 110 dB or more. It takes just fifteen minutes at this level to cause irreversibly hearing loss. At concerts and discos too, the risk is much the same, but it can also be minimised by simply wearing a pair of good-quality ear muffs or even some disposable ear plugs.

Although noise remains the most common cause of hearing loss, it is not the only one. Ear infections also pose a threat, especially if they tend to recur on a regular basis. Swimmers are often among those who are most at risk and, once more, that risk can be avoided by wearing specially moulded swim plugs –one of the prophylactic products available from us at Ear Institute.

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