Importance in hearing protection: Types and Implications

The human ear is very delegate. Injury and exposure to loud sound can cause damage to the ear that can not be reversed. Since it cannot be reversed, we should take the necessary precautions to prevent damage. Exposure to loud sound is more controllable and is one of the most common ways of hearing damage.


  1. Why is it important to use hearing protection?
  2. When must hearing protection be used?
  3. What happens if you don’t wear ear protection?
  4. How do I choose the right hearing protection?
  5. How to wear hearing protection?

Why is it important to use hearing protection

It is very important to use hearing protection when exposed to loud sounds. Neglecting to use then can cause damage to the tiny hairs in the cochlea. The issue is, once these hairs are damaged, there is no going back.

The refractory period

The hairs in your ear bend as a result to sound, but they bend back. During loud events like at the movies or a firework show, you may realize that your hearing is muffled afterwards. This is because the hairs have gone through excessive bending and it will normally take a couple of hours to a few days for the cochlea to return to its natural form.

While your hearing may seem to go back to normal because the majority of your hair cells in your cochlea have reverted from its normal form. It is very likely that some of your hair cells were bent, or damaged, to a point of no return.

This is why consistent and long term exposure to damaging levels of sound can lead to eventual permanent hearing damage.

Permanent damage

Hair cell damage

However, long exposures to loud noise can cause noticeable permanent hearing damage.

According to the CDC, the average person is born with about 16,000 hair cells in their cochlea. Around 30 to 50 percent of those hairs cells will become damaged before hearing damage can be detected on hearing tests

It is culprit to protect your ears from extremely loud noises because hearing damage is not reversible. Once your hearing damage has gotten to a noticeable level, a large amount of your hair cells in your ear are already damaged.

Auditory Nerve damage

According to the CDC, exposure to loud noises can also lead to damage of the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve transmits the sound waves that go into the ear to the brain. Damage to the auditory nerve may make it difficult to hear conversations especially in very noisy environments

When must hearing protection be used

According to OSHA’s requirements, hearing protection is mandatory in workplaces with an average of 85 decibels over an 8 hour time-weighted average.

According to OSHA and the CDC, any decibel rating of over 85 can cause damage to your ears.

When possible, try to distance yourself from loud noises or lower the noise. However, that may not always be plausible. In cases where you will inevitably be exposed to louder noises, then you should opt to wear hearing protection.

The average person is not just exposed to loud noises in the workplace. You are exposed to loud noises in your personal life and potentially at your home. You should use hearing protection at home, when exposed sounds sounds higher than 85 decibels.

Cutting the grass with a lawnmower, doing home renovations, and operating other forms of machinery can all lead to hearing damage.

According to the CDC, the noise from the average lawn mover can be anywhere between 80 and 100 decibels. The noise from operating a table saw for home renovations can go up to 120 decibels.

What happens if you don’t wear ear protection?

Not wearing hearing protection in loud environments can cause hearing damage and lead to noise induced hearing loss, NIHL.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

Noise Induced Hearing Loss will result in difficulty hearing. According to Cleveland Clinic, someone with NIHL will have an especially difficult time hearing higher pitched sounds. Additionally, having the feeling of pressure in the ear is also a common sign of Noise Induced Hearing Loss.


A common symptom of Tinnitus is a ringing sound in your ears. Tinnitus is very common and many people have it to some degree. According to Mayo Clinic, Tinnitus affects 15 to 20 percent of all people.

Other symptoms of Tinnitus include buzzing, clicking, hissing, and humming sounds in your ears. The symptoms of Tinnitus may be more long term and consistent or they may come and go in phases.

How do I choose the right hearing protection?

Now that you know the importance and implications of hearing protection, I will help you pick the right one. When choosing the right hearing protection for you, you will want to consider these 3 things.

Noise reduction rating

Depending on how loud your environment is, you would want to use hearing protection to that will keep you around the 70-80 decibel range.

Sound reduction level that’s too low

Having hearing protection that does not reduce enough sound can still damage your hearing. For example, if you are operating a piece of machinery that produces a sound with an average decibel rating of 120, and your headphones only reduce 10 decibels. You are still hearing 110 decibels which can still cause hearing damage.

Sound reduction level that’s too high

On the other hand, having hearing protection that has too much sound reduction for your environment can also cause issues.

Having hearing protection with a sound reduction rating that is too high can make it difficult to hear your surrounding. This is very hazardous especially in a work place where you need to hear other people talking and what’s going on around you.

Additionally, since you will have a difficult time hearing others, you may feel the need to quickly take off your hearing protection. While this 10 to 30 second timeframe may not feel like much, you are still exposing yourself to those loud sounds which can still lead to hearing damage.

The perfect sound reduction level

The perfect sound reduction level for hearing protection are those that reduce enough sound too keep the environment around 70 to 80 decibels. This is so that you are not damaging your ears and so that you can hear others and your environment.


Comfort is also a key factor in the hearing protection that you use. This does not mean to cut corners and not wear your ear pieces correctly. You should find a hearing protector that is comfortable when worn correction

The reason why comfort is so important is because hearing protection should be worn. If you do not find it comfortable then you will be more likely to take it off.

Earmuffs vs ear plugs


  • Not compatible with all PPE
  • Bulky
  • Quick to put on


  • Compatable with all PPE
  • Longer to put on
  • Smaller and lightweight

Earplugs tend to be more comfortable than earmuffs. Ear plugs fit and mold into your ear. They are light weight and you can almost forget about them.

Earmuffs sit over your ear and are more heavy and bulky. Earmuffs may interfere with other PPE that you may be wearing and are normally not the most comfortable.

Purchase Earmuffs: Amazon link

Purchase Earplugs: Amazon link

Other necessary equipment

You will need to take into account some of the other necessary PPE and personal items that you will be wearing. Wearing prescription or protection glasses can interfere with earmuffs. Since glasses sit behind the ears, it will leave a gap that will allow sound to pass in through the earmuffs.

Having a hard hat may interfere with the fit of earmuffs if the band is not adjustable so that it can extend over the hard hat. Wearing a mask may make gaps between the side of your face and the earmuffs where sound can pass through.

How to wear hearing protection?

The first step in protecting your ears from loud noises is wearing hearing protection. However, the hearing protection’s effectiveness can decrease to zero if it is not worn properly. In this section I will discuss how to wear earplugs and ear muffs.


There are two general types of ear plugs. Those are foam earplugs and pre-molded earplugs.

Foam earplugs

With foam earplugs, you want to ensure that you have a tight seal around your outer ear canal.

  1. Roll the earpiece
    • First you will roll the earpiece into a small tube making sure not to crease the foam
  2. Pull up on your ear
    • By grabbing the top of your ear, pull upwards using your opposite hand
  3. Insert the ear piece
    • Insert the ear piece and hold it for around 20 to 30 seconds

Pre-molded earplugs

With pre-molded earplugs you will not need to roll them to insert it into your ear.

  1. Pull up on ear
    • By grabbing the top of your ear, pull upwards
  2. Insert the piece
    1. Insert the ear piece by sliding it into your ear with a rocking motion


Over the ear earmuffs are the easiest type of hearing protection to put on. However, it may not be the most comfortable and the viable to use in every scenario.

To wear them properly you just need to put the earmuffs over your ears with the band sitting on top of your head.

For earmuffs to be effective, the earmuff has to fit snugly around your ear, on the side of your face. Any gaps of air will allow for sound to travel thus limiting the effectiveness of the earmuffs.


In this article we learned about the important of hearing protection, its implications if it is not used, and how to choose the correct hearing protection.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!


My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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