The 10 Best Safety Earmuffs
The Lifelong Need To Protect Your Ears
The human body has the truly amazing ability to repair and restore itself after most damages. Your body can heal from minor cuts, burns, and scrapes with such zeal that in time, all evidence of most such injuries are entirely erased. And even though larger wounds might leave scars, they will often not leave a lasting effect on how well your body works, provided you received proper treatment for the damage.
With the right care and attention, and with enough time broken bones set, tissue replenishes, and many diseases are successfully fought off. However, not all types of damage the body faces are endured equally. And ironically, one of the most pernicious and lasting types of injury the body faces comes from a source that can't even be seen with the naked eye: a sound wave.
The human ear is a complex, delicate system that, when functioning properly, does a wonderful job of translating waves of sound into a signal the brain can process and understand. The basic process merits a brief description. When a sound wave enters the ear canal, it meets the eardrum, a taut, slender membrane often called the tympanic membrane. This membrane vibrates in response to the sound waves, and these vibrations are enhanced and amplified by three minute but essential auditory ossicle bones of the inner ear, the hammer, anvil, and the stirrup (properly the malleus, incus, and the stapes).
The amplified vibrations resonate through fluid filled cochlea, which send vibrations to another membrane, the basilar membrane, which is lined with sensory hair cells that send electrical impulses to the brain and which are finally (nanoseconds later) interpreted as sound.
The inner ear operates like a precision built machine, with each minute component essential to proper overall function. Damage to any portion of this "machine" results in overall impaired function, also known as hearing loss.
Noise induced hearing loss can come as the result of an acute trauma, such as the powerful blast of an explosion or the roar of an industrial or automobile accident, but more often than not, hearing loss caused by exposure to sound is a slow moving process of accumulated damage that leads to chronic, often irreparable damage.
Regular, long term exposure to loud noises slowly but surely damages those all important hairs of the inner ear, eventually reducing their ability to transmit signals to the brain properly. And once damaged beyond a certain degree, these cells will never properly regenerate.
Protecting your hearing, therefore, is a lifelong undertaking. Unlike with decisions such as weight loss or fitness goals, you can't simply decide one day to restore your hearing through some change in lifestyle; you have to protect it each and every day.
Understanding Decibels And Damage
Most experts concerned with aural health agree that noise levels of 75 decibels or below can be continuously endured by the human ear without any risk for either acute or chronic hearing damage. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (or OSHA), noise levels as high as 85 decibels are safe for the duration of an eight hour work day. Any noise levels above this merit the use of protective hearing gear, as damage becomes increasingly likely as sound levels rise past this threshold.
As many people lack clear frame of reference of decibel levels, a few examples can help to create an understanding. A typical conversational speaking volume approximates 65 decibels at two to three feet of distance. An idling piece of industrial equipment (such as a large tractor or bulldozer) or an active lawnmower can operate at around 90 decibels. A jet aircraft at a few hundred yards can create more than 100 decibels. A nearby peal of thunder may reach 120 decibels, while the crack of a firearm can surpass 150 decibels with ease, which is the sound level at which an eardrum can be perforated or even ruptured by the force of the sound wave.
Thus it is that people who work in construction, a factory, on the tarmac of an airport or the deck of an aircraft carrier, or anyone else who is around sounds both consistently noisy and/or occasionally overwhelming simply must wear ear protection. The expression deafeningly loud is not mere hyperbole, after all.
Choosing The Right Safety Earmuffs For You
There are some situations in which you want maximum hearing protection, and that's that. You don't stand on the line at a shooting range in order to have a chat, for example. Shooting noisy firearms calls for maximum noise reduction, so opt for safety earmuffs rated at a 30 decibel reduction or higher. This can bring the perceived crack of even louder rifles down to tolerable levels.
On the other hand, there are times when communication is imperative for productivity and/or safety, as when working on a busy construction site or at a logistically complex airport. In these cases, you need earmuffs that reject much of the sound around you, but doesn't totally curtail hearing. There are safety earmuffs available that can "compress" loud, sharp sounds down to safe and tolerable levels and which can actually amplify those quieter noises that you want to hear, such as the words of a colleague.
If you work in an environment where you will be wearing safety earmuffs for most of the day, you owe it to yourself to invest in a top quality piece of hardware. This can mean spending several hundred dollars on your safety earmuffs, but the comfort these units afford, both in terms of physical and aural comfort, is well worth the cost. And the long term preservation of your hearing you will get from good safety earmuffs is absolutely priceless.