You don’t have to work in a loud environment or be exposed to high decibels for a long period of time for your hearing to be adversely affected by noise. Even the sounds we’re exposed to every day - such as traffic, music and DIY - can have an impact on your hearing, so it’s important to protect it, no matter what age you are.

Why should I protect my hearing?

Once your hearing is impaired, it’s irreversible. That’s because loud noises can seriously damage the tiny hairs inside your ears that carry sound signals to your brain, and once they’re damaged, they can’t be repaired.

While hearing aids can help improve your hearing, they’ll never be able to restore it, so you should take steps to protect your hearing and prevent any hearing loss in the first instance.

If your hearing has already been impacted (perhaps as a result of the natural ageing process, or illness), it’s vital that you protect your remaining hearing.

Impaired hearing can have a host of impacts that can affect your quality of life, including: 

  • Feelings of isolation that stem from being unable to hear conversations or appliances like your TV or radio

  • The inability to hear alarms, doorbells or the telephone

  • Missing certain sounds like children’s voices or birdsong 

That’s because your hearing is connected to a range of processes within your brain, such as memory and cognition, so preserving it is important for both your physical and mental health.

man talking to girl in car

What impacts can loud noises have?

Your ears are incredibly delicate, so any sound, if loud enough, or if you’re exposed to high decibels for a long period of time, can have an impact on your hearing. These include:

  • Music (whether you’re listening at home or attending a concert)

  • DIY

  • Traffic

  • Gardening equipment (such as lawn mowers and hedge trimmers)

  • TV

This is especially true when you work in a noisy environment, such as construction, or industries where explosions (or other, one-off loud noises) are common.

As we’ve seen, loud noises - especially if you’re exposed to them over a long period of time - can have a significant impact on the nerves and tiny hairs responsible for transmitting sound signals to your brain. Once these hairs are damaged, they can’t be repaired, resulting in hearing loss. 

Loud noises don’t just affect your ears and hearing: they can also have an impact on the rest of your body too, with prolonged exposure to noises louder than 80dB affecting your concentration and sleep, which, if not relieved, can result in heart problems and high blood pressure.

But this can be prevented by effective hearing protection. 

How does hearing protection work?

As the name suggests, hearing protection is designed to protect your hearing over the short and long term. It does this by reducing (rather than completely blocking) the level of sound entering your ear, and therefore the level of sound reaching the sensitive nerves and hairs found in your inner ear.

There are different types of hearing protection available:

  • Avoiding loud noise (though this isn’t always possible if you work in a noisy environment like construction or manufacturing)

  • Standing away from speakers when you’re at concerts

  • Using earplugs, ear defenders or earmolds if you’re in a loud environment

If you choose to wear ear protection, it’s essential that it fits properly, otherwise it won’t provide the level of protection that you need. In fact, wearable ear protection is most likely to be effective against high frequency sounds, such as loud music, rather than those that are measured at low frequency, so make sure you’re using the most suitable protection for your needs.

Do I need hearing protection?

Everyone is affected by noise in different ways, and this means that the volume at which noise becomes problematic will vary from person to person. For example, you might find that traffic noise, or the noise from your TV or lawn mower doesn’t affect you too much, but your family or friends might feel the opposite.

However, noises over 80dB can be problematic, especially if you’re regularly exposed to them, and the law states that you must wear ear protection when you’re exposed to noise levels above 85dB. So if you work in an industry where you’re frequently exposed to loud noises for prolonged periods of time - such as construction and manufacturing - you must wear hearing protection.

But it’s important to protect your ears whenever you’re exposed to loud noises - such as at concerts or doing some types of DIY. While hearing loss can be temporary at first - particularly if you’re only attending a concert once in a while, for example - you can risk permanent damage if your exposure continues. 

And when it comes to your hearing, there isn’t a cure for hearing loss, so prevention is key.   

Of course, the type of protection you need varies from person to person and situation to situation, so you should bear in mind the following when considering the most suitable type of protection:

  • What you find comfortable

  • The size of your ear canals

  • How noisy your environment is

  • Your working conditions and what you do


See our custom ear protection range

When is hearing protection mandatory?

By law, hearing protection must be worn in situations where noise levels exceed 85dB - and that covers both work and leisure activities.

According to the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005, hearing protection (whether through protective equipment or hearing protection zones) becomes mandatory when noise levels reach 85dB. 

Your employer must carry out risk assessments and information and training should be provided to employees when noise levels reach 80dB. There’s also an exposure limit of 87dB, which means you can’t be exposed to noises louder than that, even with adequate hearing protection in place.

How to protect your hearing

There are a range of ways to protect your hearing, including:
Avoiding loud noises

This is the best way to protect your hearing from noise-induced loss. It can be hard to know which types of noise are loud enough to affect your hearing, but there are a few rules of thumb:

  • Having to talk louder when you’re with others

  • Being unable to easily hear what others are saying

  • You find your ears hurt after the event

  • Your hearing is muffled or you notice ringing

There are also a number of apps that measure noise levels, so you can use them to determine how noisy an environment is.

Turn the volume down

Loud music - especially when listened to through headphones - can be very damaging. If you find yourself turning the volume up, particularly when you’re out and about, it might be worth using noise-cancelling headphones to limit the impact of external noise, and reduce the need to turn up the volume.

You can also use the settings on your device to limit the volume, and it’s advisable to try to take a break from your headphones at least once an hour.

Protect your hearing

Make sure you take steps to protect your hearing when you’re at events like festivals or concerts. This can include:

  • Moving away from the speakers

  • Taking regular breaks by going somewhere quieter

  • Giving your hearing enough time to recover between events

  • Using ear protection like earplugs

You should also consider using hearing protection when you’re using power tools and other loud machines for a prolonged period of time.

Be careful at work

As we’ve seen, it’s imperative that your employer carries out risk assessments and provides information and training for employees where noise levels are greater than 80dB, and provides hearing protection when noise levels exceed 85dB.

Book a hearing test

Whether you’re regularly exposed to loud noise or not, it’s important to undergo regular hearing tests - particularly if you’re concerned that you may have problems with your hearing.

Our team at Boots Hearingcare provide 15 minute hearing checks and can advise on the best way to manage any hearing loss. Pop into your local branch to find out more and book your appointment.

By following these simple tips, you can keep your ears healthier for longer, so you won’t miss a thing!

What types of hearing protection are there?

Different situations need different levels and types of hearing protection. Here are some of the types you can choose from:

Capsule hearing protection

This type of hearing protection consists of earmuffs attached to a strap that fits over your head or helmet. This makes it a great choice of protection for industrial settings.

It protects your hearing against very loud noises and short-term exposure, and some models can be folded, making them easy to carry.

Foam earplugs

These disposable earplugs are perhaps the most familiar variety. They’re made from expandable foam, so will adapt to the shape of your ear canal, making them both effective and comfortable.

They’re great at blocking most external noise, such as snoring, but they can’t be reused as the foam can become a haven for bacteria. 

Plastic earplugs

These earplugs have grip stems and a cord, which makes them easy to insert and remove. As such, they’re particularly suitable if you work in an area where sound comes in louder bursts interspersed with quieter periods.

See our reusable hearing protection range

Earmolds

This custom-made form of ear protection is created by taking an impression of your ear canal. This makes them a very personalised form of protection, so they’re extremely comfortable, often easier to insert and suitable for use over a long period of time.

They’re also reusable (though will need regular cleaning), and are available with a range of sound filters (including for musicians, motorcyclists and swimmers), so you can choose the best method of protection depending on the situation.

See our custom hearing protection range

Cotton earplugs

These single-use earplugs are cheaper than their counterparts, but offer a good level of protection when worn for situations such as concerts.

We stock a wide range of hearing protection at Boots Hearingcare, and will be happy to advise on the most suitable protection for your needs and situation. Come along to your local branch today.