The Top Myths and Misconceptions About Ear Protection

Nobody would voluntarily give up their ability to hear, yet millions of people every year neglect the importance of ear protection when participating in activities that generate potentially harmful noise. On construction job sites, ear protection is even more important – but many people enter those job sites with prevailing myths and misconceptions about how ear protection works and whether it’s necessary.

What are these myths? And what’s the right way to think about and use ear protection?

Myths and Misconceptions About Ear Protection

These are some of the most common myths and misconceptions about ear protection, hearing damage, and hearing loss.

  •       Ear protection is optional. Some people treat ear protection as if it’s optional, even in particularly noisy environments. Technically, you do have a choice in what you put on or over your ears, but if you care about your hearing or your long-term health, ear protection should be seen as mandatory.
  •       Pain and ringing are the only indications of ear/hearing damage. Many of us have had the experience of pain or ringing in our ears as a result of being exposed to an excessively loud noise. This is a clear indication that you’ve suffered some damage. However, it’s a mistake to think that pain and ringing are the only indications of ear or hearing damage. It’s possible to sustain long term damage and suffer premature hearing loss even if you’ve never experienced pain or ringing.
  •       Bigger forms of protection are better. It’s tempting to think that bigger forms of protection, like gigantic earmuffs, are better than their smaller counterparts, like tiny ear plugs. But this isn’t necessarily the case. Most forms of ear protection are objectively evaluated with a noise reduction rating (NRR), indicating the number of decibels of sound the form of protection can reduce or eliminate. The highest NRR rating for earplugs is 33, while the highest for earmuffs is 31; these ratings apply to each form of protection when worn alone, though combining highest-rated earplugs and earmuffs can lead to a protection rating of 36. The higher the rating, the more protection they offer – regardless of shape, size, brand, or purpose. These numbers matter a lot more than your subjective interpretation.
  •       Ear protection interferes with hearing too much. It’s true that hearing protection does mildly muffle your surrounding environment, but people overestimate how much it interferes with actual hearing. Even with highly-rated ear protection, you should be able to hear the people around you without them needing to yell.
  •       Ear protection is too uncomfortable. Many people find ear protection to be uncomfortable, which is a somewhat reasonable complaint. However, because there are so many different styles and types of hearing protection available, there’s something that should be comfortable for everyone.
  •       Ear protection can cause infections. Occasionally, you’ll hear a complaint that earplugs should be avoided because they might cause infections. But if you use your earplugs properly and maintain good hygiene practices, it shouldn’t be a concern.
  •       Noise levels are easy to discern. Decibels are an excellent objective metric for evaluating the loudness of a sound. Scientists and researchers use them to develop proper hearing protection and distinguish between types of noise as empirically as possible. It is a mistake to assume that you can discern the loudness or potential damage of a given sound without objectively measuring it; there’s too much room for error in subjective analysis.
  •       Some ears are just tougher than others. Some people are convinced that they’re so much tougher than everyone else that the rules don’t really apply to them. This even extends to the ears, as these stubborn individuals believe themselves to be exempt from hearing loss. However, this is delusional; all ears are subject to damage and everyone should invest in protecting their hearing.
  •       Hearing is fixable. If you do suffer hearing damage, you can always fix it up at the doctor, right? Unfortunately, this is another myth. Most forms of hearing damage are permanent and irreversible.

Gold Standards for Proper Ear Protection

Hearing and ear protection is a complicated subject, and not something that can be fully explored in the span of a short article. However, there are some gold standards that you can follow for proper ear protection in a variety of environments.

  •       When in doubt, wear it. If you’re not sure whether or not you should wear your protection, wear it. There’s no real downside to wearing ear protection, but wearing it could protect you from losing your hearing prematurely.
  •       Always read labels and instructions. Earplugs and earmuffs are generic terms that can apply to a wide variety of products, with different shapes, sizes, uses, and ratings. If you want to use ear protection properly, it’s important to always read labels and instructions, then follow those instructions carefully.
  •       Experiment to find something comfortable. Many people are reluctant to wear hearing protection because they find it to be uncomfortable. However, with such a wide variety of products available, it shouldn’t be hard to find something that meets your preferences. Experiment until you find something with a proper rating that you can tolerate.

On a construction job site, hearing protection is vital for anyone exposed to loud noises or continuous noise. In most construction environments, that means everyone should be wearing ear protection. Hopefully, our analysis of these myths and misconceptions has allowed you to think about ear protection more accurately and take it more seriously as a subject.