Public health officials estimate that approximately 26 million people across the U.S. are impacted by noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL can be temporary or permanent, caused by exposure to unsafe sound levels above 85 decibels (dB). By way of comparison, repeated exposure to traffic noise in cities may reach this decibel level, while guns, motorcycles and fireworks all have decibel levels in excess of 120. Luckily, there are several styles of hearing protection products sold at your local sports or hardware store to match the different noise levels in a variety of conditions.

The rating system for hearing protection. In the US, all products are given a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) based on a standard system for assessing the amount of protection they give the wearer. NRR is measured a decibel scale of 0 to 33 with the level of protection rising with the rating number.

Deciding Between Earmuffs and Earplugs

Electronic earplugs

Electronic earplugs are small devices placed inside the ear to block extremes in external noise, while still allowing you to hear normal sounds in your vicinity. On top of that, they respond and adapt to deaden unexpected noises, such as a shot from a gun or a cymbal. Some kinds of electronic earplugs can allow lower-decibel sounds such as speech to pass while at the same time blocking dangerous noises. Electronic earplugs are particularly valuable in situations where earmuffs could be too cumbersome and get in the way.

Electronic earmuffs

Electronic earmuffs cover the entire outer ear with a cushioned insulating material and, while many models are similar in appearance to non-electronic earmuffs, they are actually very different. Some earmuffs are made specifically for people who encounter firearms on a routine basis, such as soldiers, police or hunters. Other earmuffs designs include a built-in radio system to enable conversation between people working in noisy environments. You can even find certain earmuffs that let you listen to the radio when you are in a noisy spot, which is wonderful when blowing leaves or mowing the lawn.