The first key in preventing hearing loss is awareness. Knowing the risks associated with certain environments and activities will help you decide whether you need hearing protection or not. For instance, because shooting a gun or riding a motorcycle exposes you to hazardous noise levels, it’s important to wear appropriate hearing protection when you engage in those activities.
For other activities, wearing hearing protection may not be possible, but you can still take measures to prevent hearing loss. For example, listening to loud music for long periods of time, especially using headphones or ear buds, can damage your hearing. It doesn’t make sense to wear hearing protection while using your personal listening device, but you can turn the volume down and take frequent breaks from listening.
It’s also important to know what kind of hearing protection will work best for your situation and the proper way to use whatever hearing protection device you choose. For most recreational activities, wearing ear plugs or noise muffs, or both, should be sufficient. Noise muffs are easy to put on and take off, so they are generally more practical in situations where exposure to hazardous noise is intermittent, such as at a shooting range. Ear plugs, on the other hand, are more suitable for activities with constant exposure to loud noise, such as a rock concert. They’re easily transportable and allow freedom of movement.
If you need hearing protection for your work, it’s imperative to wear it. There are a number of things to consider. The first is work environment. Whether you work indoors or outdoors, whether the noise exposure is continuous or intermittent, and the noise level of surrounding equipment are all things to take into consideration.
Your specific job requirements will also determine what kind of hearing protection device is most appropriate. For example, if communication is critical to the job, you’ll need a device with enough attenuation, or noise reduction, to protect your hearing without compromising your ability to hear important commands or warnings.
Noise attenuating helmets are designed to protect the wearer from hazardous noises with ear cups and to facilitate electronic communication with earpieces and microphones. Pilots and combat vehicle crewman commonly use these helmets.
Another device that simultaneously protects hearing and enables auditory situational awareness is the Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, or TCAPS. TCAPS integrates with existing communication equipment so that military personnel can hear what they need to while preventing hearing injury from hazardous noises.