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Proper Use of Hearing Protection Devices


Dr. Matthews

Welcome to the Proper Use of Hearing Protection Devices training video presented by the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence. I’m Dr. Matthews.

Dr. Reynolds

And I’m Dr. Reynolds. Hearing protection devices play key roles in protecting against potentially damaging noise levels, which can result in hearing loss or tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears.

Hearing protection devices include:

  • Foam earplugs
  • Triple- and quad-flange earplugs
  • Tactical earplugs
  • Noise muffs, and
  • Tactical communication and protective systems, or TCAPS

Dr. Matthews

A common myth about hearing protection devices, especially in the military, is that hearing protection causes decreased situational awareness. But with today’s technology, hearing protection devices are available that can simultaneously protect hearing and enhance situational awareness.

Choosing the proper hearing protection depends on the environment, situation, noise type, and level. These days, there are many styles and types of devices available, so you can fine-tune the solution to your need.

Keep in mind that the proper use of hearing protection devices can prevent hearing damage and maintain your ability to fully enjoy the sounds of everyday life. If you have questions about your hearing protection device, seek advice from a hearing health provider or audiologist to ensure you have a correct size and properly fitted device.

Dr. Reynolds

Foam earplugs are the most common type of earplug. They’re primarily used for one-time exposures to hazardous noise, such as using power tools at home, or attending concerts or sporting events. They don’t require fitting by a medical professional, and foam earplugs are readily available at a variety of retail stores.

To properly insert foam earplugs:

  • Roll and compress the entire earplug so that it’s crease free and small enough to slide easily into your ear canal
  • Reach over your head with the hand opposite of the ear being fitted, and pull up and back on your ear to straighten the ear canal
  • With your other hand, slide the compressed earplug into your ear canal, as deeply as it fits comfortably. And then let go of your ear.

The earplug expands to fill your ear canal.

Dr. Matthews

Triple-flange earplugs are available in small, medium, and large sizes, and require initial fitting by a medically trained professional. These types of earplugs are reusable and provide protection from steady-state noise exposures when effective communication is not required, such as being in engine rooms or mowing the lawn.

You must have triple- and quad-flange earplugs examined by a medical professional for fit and condition at least once a year.

Dr. Reynolds

Dr. Matthews makes a good point about having reusable earplugs examined annually. Do you know that your ear canals change in size as you age? As a result, you may need a different size of hearing protection device.

Tactical earplugs are also reusable and provide protection from hazardous noise while allowing for effective communication and situational awareness. They’re available in small, medium, and large sizes, and also require initial fitting by a medically trained professional. 

The tactical earplug has a toggle switch that allows you to select protection for either steady-state or impulse noise exposures. When the toggle switch is closed, it protects against steady-state noise hazards, such as generators, vehicles, and aircraft.

With the toggle switch open, it protects against impulse noise hazards, such as weapons fire and blasts. In the open position, it also allows you to hear softer sounds, such as speech, while providing hearing protection when you’re exposed to harmful noise.

Remember to have your tactical earplugs examined annually by a medical professional for fit and condition.

Dr. Matthews

To properly insert triple- or quad-flange, or tactical earplugs:

  • Reach over your head with the hand opposite of the ear being fitted, and pull up and back on your ear to straighten the ear canal
  • With your other hand, grasp the stem of the earplug and gently insert the earplug into your ear canal until the outer flange is coupled against the ear canal opening, and then let go of your ear.
  • Tug on the stem of the earplug to feel a good airtight seal between your ear canal and the earplugs

To remove these types of earplugs, use a slow, twisting motion to break the airtight seal. 

Dr. Reynolds

To make sure your earplugs are inserted properly and you have a good fit, use these self-check tests:

  • Do a buddy exam and make sure the earplug is well inserted into the ear with about one-third of the earplug visible in the ear canal opening 
  • Listen to your voice by counting to five. Your voice should sound deeper and fuller, or muffled, and should be heard in the center of your head.
  • Do a “tug test” by gently tugging on the stem or end of the earplug. You should feel resistance when you tug on it.
  • Listen to the sounds around you while cupping your hands over your ears, and then remove your hands. You shouldn’t notice a difference in the sound.

Remove and reposition the earplugs, if more than one third of your earplug is visible, if your voice isn’t heard in the center of your head, or if the earplugs come out easily when tugged. Then try the self-checks again until you have a proper fit.

Dr. Matthews

Noise muffs, which are sometimes called noise reduction ear muffs, contain two tightly fitted ear cups that cover each of your ears and block noise from entering the ear canal. Noise muffs can provide greater noise reduction than earplugs and are readily available at most sporting goods stores.

Dr. Reynolds

Keep in mind that noise muffs are practical for situations with occasional noise exposure, such as on a flight line, at a shooting range, or doing noisy chores around the house like mowing the lawn or using power tools. They’re easy to put on and take off and consistently provide a high level of protection.

Noise muffs block out sound by creating an airtight seal. For a proper fit, the headband must be tight to maintain the seal around your head. If the headband tension isn’t tight enough, the noise reduction decreases.

Dr. Matthews

Ear cup fit is equally important. If the ear cups are too large or loose on your head, they can’t create an airtight seal. Keep in mind that if the noise muffs are too small for your head, they may be uncomfortable, and if the ear cups don’t cover both of your ears entirely, they won’t protect your hearing.

Ear cups must be replaced once they start to show cracks and tears, or if they look worn. If the ear cups can’t be replaced, new noise muffs are required.

Dr. Reynolds

A specialized hearing protection device that simultaneously protects hearing and enables auditory situational awareness is the Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, or TCAPS. TCAPS combine with existing communication equipment so that military personnel can hear what they need to, and prevent hearing injury from hazardous noises.

Dr. Matthews

If you have questions about your hearing or the proper use of hearing protection devices, contact your hearing health provider or audiologist for more information.

Dr. Reynolds

You can also visit the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence web site at for more in-depth information about your hearing and hearing health.

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