Ear Plug FAQ's

Q. Won't hearing protectors interfere with our ability to hear important sounds our machinery and equipment make?

A. Hearing protectors will lower the noise level of your equipment; it won't eliminate it. However, some hearing protectors will reduce certain frequencies more than others; so wearing them can make noises sound different. In cases where it's important that the sound just be quieter without any other changes, there are hearing protectors that can provide flat attenuation such as our Earmonix High Fidelity Plugs or our Flying & Travel Ear Plugs. There are also noise-reactive hearing protectors like our Shooting and Impact Plugs which provide a lower continuous 12dB of attenuation with normal sounds but increase up to 33dB attenuation when protection from dangerous sudden impulse noises such as gunshots, nail guns, air wrenches etc. occur.

Q. Can you poke out your eardrums with earplugs?

A. That is unlikely for two reasons. First, the average ear canal is about 1 1/4 inches long. The typical ear plug is between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch long. So even if you inserted the entire earplug, it would still not touch the eardrum. Second, the path from the opening of the ear canal to the eardrum is not straight. In fact, it is quite irregular. This prevents you from poking objects into the eardrum.

Q. I work in a dusty, dirty place. Should I worry that our ears will get infected by using earplugs?

A. Using earplugs will not cause an infection. But use common sense. Have clean hands when using earplugs that need to be rolled or formed with your fingers in order for you to insert them. If this is inconvenient, there are plenty of earplugs that are pre-molded or that have stems so that you can insert them without having to touch the part that goes into the ear canal.

Q. Can you hear warning sounds, such as backup beeps, when wearing hearing protectors?

A. The fact is that there are fatal injuries because people do not hear warning sounds. However, this is usually because the background noise was too high or because the person had severe hearing loss, not because someone was wearing hearing protectors. Using hearing protectors will bring both the noise and the warning sound down equally. So if the warning sound is audible without the hearing protector, it will usually be audible when wearing the hearing protector. Also, many warning systems can be adjusted or changed so warning signals are easier to detect.

Q. Don't we lose our hearing as we age?

A. It's true that most people's hearing test gets worse as they get older. But for the average person, aging does not cause impaired hearing before at least the age of 60. People who are not exposed to noise and are otherwise healthy, keep their hearing for many years. People who are exposed to noise and do not protect their hearing begin to lose their hearing at an early age. For example, by age 25 the average carpenter has "50-year old" ears! That is, by age 25, the average carpenter has the same hearing as someone who is 50 years old and has worked in a quiet job.

Q. What is a Single Number Rating (SNR)?

A. An SNR is a single number rating system determined according to International Standard ISO 4869. The tests are carried out by commercial laboratories that are independent of the manufacturers. Like NRRs, SNRs are expressed in dB's and are used as a guide for comparing the potential noise reduction capability of different hearing protection devices. Since the procedures for measuring NRRs and SNRs are different, the NRR and SNR values for an individual hearing protector are different. For further details please refer to the Canadian Standard CSA Z94.2 or American Standard ANSI S12. What happens to the protection level when hearing protectors are removed for short periods of time? In order to get full benefit, hearing protectors must be worn all the time during noisy work. If hearing protectors are removed only for a short duration, the protection is substantially reduced. The following table gives a maximum protection provided for non-continuous use of an ideally fitted "100%" efficient hearing protector. For example if one takes off his/her hearing protector for 5 min in a 8-hour shift, the maximum protection will be 20 dB.
Maximum protection provided by
non-continuous use of Hearing Protection
Percent time used Maximum Protection
50% 3 dB
60% 4 dB
70% 5 dB
80% 7 dB
90% 10 dB
95% 13 dB
99% 20 dB
99.9% 30 dB

Ear protectors must be used ALL THE TIME to get full benefit.

Q. Will we be able to hear each other talk when wearing hearing protectors?

A. Some people find they can wear hearing protectors and still understand speech. Others will have trouble hearing speech while wearing hearing protectors. Being able to hear what other people say depends on many things: distance from the speaker, ability to see the speaker's face, general familiarity with the topic, level of background noise, and whether or not one has an existing hearing impairment. In some cases, wearing hearing protectors can make it easier to understand speech. In other instances, people may be using hearing protectors to keep out too much sound. You may need a protector that reduces the sound enough to be safe without reducing the sound too much to hear speech at a comfortably loud level. For those people who work in noise and must communicate, it may also be necessary to use communication headsets. Allow your employees to try different protectors. Some will work better than others at helping them to hear speech, and different protectors may work better for different people.

Q. How long does it take to get used to hearing protectors?

A. Think about getting a new pair of shoes. Some shoes take no time to get used to. Others - even though they are the right size - can take a while to get used to. Hearing protectors are no different from other safety equipment in terms of getting used to them. But if hearing protectors are the wrong size, or are worn out, they will not be comfortable. Also, workers may need more than one kind of protector at their job. For example, no one would wear golf shoes to go bowling. If hearing protectors are not suitable for the work being done, they probably won't feel comfortable.

Q. How do I select and use hearing protectors?

A. Comfort—so you’ll wear them
* Consistency—use them every time, all the time, in hazardous noise
* Cleanliness—keep plugs and hands as clean as possible

Q. How do I insert an earplug?

A. 1. Grab the tongue of the ear plug between the thumb and forefinger
2. Pull up and away on the top of your ear with the opposite hand to open the ear
3. Gently push and twist the ear plug into the ear until it sits comfortably in the ear while forming seal with the ear canal.
4. See instructions "How to insert the earplugs"

Q. How long can someone be in a loud noise before it's hazardous?

A. The degree of hearing hazard is related to both the level of the noise as well as to the duration of the exposure. But this question is like asking how long can people look at the sun without damaging their eyes. The safest thing to do is to ensure workers always protect their ears by wearing hearing protectors anytime they are around loud noise.

Q. How do I clean the ear plugs and how often?

A. You should clean the ear tips after each use to remove any ear wax or other debris. Cleaning the ear tips can be easily done using a damp cloth or antibacterial tissues, if needed, and after removing the filters, the ear tips can also be cleaned with warm water and a mild soap. The filters generally do not require regular cleaning however they can be cleaned with the use of warm water, only if necessary should they be cleaned with mild soap or hygiene tablets and allowed to dry thoroughly.

Q. There are two ear tip sizes, which one should I use?

A. The ear plugs come with the filters inserted into the larger set of ear tips. This is the size most people find works best, however if they are difficult to insert or seem to want to fall out the smaller size may be better for you. The pill sized filters can be easily removed and placed into the smaller tips. They come with instructions but mainly you just want to be sure the filter logo is facing out and they are flush with the top of the tip.

Q. How can I tell if the noise is too loud?

A. There are two rules: First, if you have to raise your voice to talk to someone who is an arm's length away, then the noise is likely to be hazardous. Second, if your ears are ringing or sounds seem dull or flat after leaving a noisy place, then you probably were exposed to hazardous noise.

Q. How often should my hearing be tested?

A. Anyone regularly exposed to hazardous noise should have an annual hearing test. Also, anyone who notices a change in his/her hearing (or who develops tinnitus) should have his or her ears checked. People who have healthy ears and who are not exposed to hazardous noise should get a hearing test every three years.

Q. Since I already have hearing loss and wear a hearing aid, hearing prevention programs don't apply to me, right?

A. If you have hearing loss, it's important to protect the hearing that you have left. Loud noises can continue to damage your hearing making it even more difficult to communicate at work and with your family and friends.

Q. Where can I get information about ringing in my ears?

A. You can find more information about tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, by visiting the American Tinnitus Association website. Questions and answers were complied from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety websites