Given that hearing is essential for mission readiness and effective communication both on and off duty, hearing protection should be routinely worn in noisy environments. This includes protecting your hearing from sudden loud noises, such as blasts or gunfire. Keep in mind that sustained ambient noise that’s produced by a ship, generator, or during flight may also require hearing protection.
Hearing protection devices, or HPDs, play key roles in protecting against potentially damaging noise levels, which can result in hearing loss or tinnitus.
Three common HPDs are:
- Ear plugs
- Noise muffs, and
- Noise attenuating helmets
Simple foam ear plugs that reduce the amount of noise entering the ear are the most commonly available type of HPD. Level-dependent ear plugs have small filters that enable soft noises to be conveyed with full strength while eliminating any high frequency or impulse noise. They allow Service members to hear key verbal and combat sounds while reducing dangerous levels of noise, such as explosions or machine gun fire.
Noise muffs contain two tightly fitted ear cups that cover each ear entirely and block noise from entering the auditory system. They’re best used for intermittent exposure to noise, and provide noise reduction as well as durability.
Studies suggest that noise muffs can provide greater attenuation, or noise reduction, than ear plugs, but may make it harder to pick up softer sounds. To alleviate this problem, some noise muffs have built-in electronic communication systems, so that wearers can communicate clearly with others.
Military personnel should use noise attenuating helmets in appropriate settings. These helmets protect the wearers from hearing loss, crash impact, and eye injuries. They can also improve interactions with radio communication capabilities.
Technologically advanced helmets include active noise-reducing systems that monitor the sound energy around the ear and cancel any unwanted noise while preserving verbal communication. Communication ear plugs serve as microphones and can be worn in addition to the helmet for high-quality verbal clarity.
In the military, selecting and wearing proper hearing protection can mean the difference between life and death. Likewise in a non-work environment, proper hearing protection increases your safety. The proper use of HPDs can mean the difference between hearing impairment and the ability to fully enjoy the sounds of everyday life.
Keep in mind that hearing protection devices are only helpful when worn properly and consistently. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s directions for correct insertion and use.