Twenty six million Americans — consisting of women, men and kids of all ages — have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), as reported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. NIHL is a temporary or permanent decrease in hearing ability caused by exposure to a dangerous sound level (anything more than 85 decibels). The variety sounds that may bring about NIHL range from common city traffic at approximately 85 decibels to fireworks, firearms and motorcycles which might top 120 decibels. Luckily, there are several types of hearing protection devices sold at your local hardware or sports store to match the different noise levels in many different conditions.

A hearing protection scale

In the U.S., hearing protection is rated based on its level of protection in a system known as the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The rating range from 0 to 33 decibels with the larger rating providing greater ear protection.

Deciding Between Earplugs and Earmuffs

Electronic earmuffs

Electronic earmuffs are made to cup the full outer ear with a padded insulating material, and, though appear similar to regular earmuffs, they are quite different. Some are manufactured especially for people who encounter firearms on a regular basis, such as soldiers, hunters or police. Other models include a built-in 2-way radio system that allows wearers to talk with one another in loud working environments. You can even find certain earmuffs that let you enjoy the radio while you’re in a noisy location, which is nice when blowing leaves or mowing the lawn.

Electronic earplugs

Electronic earplugs are small devices placed inside the ear to block extremes in outside noise, while still allowing you to hear lower level sounds around you. For sudden noises, such as gunshots, the earplugs adjust automatically. Some types of electronic earplugs can allow lower-decibel sounds such as speech to reach the wearer while at the same time blocking dangerous loud noises. These are extremely helpful for hunting and at construction or industrial sites where loud noises are frequent, but you still need to be able to hear instructions.

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