Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Protect your hearing

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 18: Personal protective equipment (PPE) > Protect your hearing


Loud or constant noise can harm your hearing permanently. It can also prevent you from hearing other people, raise your blood pressure, and cause stress. The best way to protect workers is to lower the noise levels. (See Chapter 13: Noise for more information.)

a boss yelling at a worker wearing earmuffs.
I said, Work faster!
At least I can’t hear him yelling anymore.

Earmuffs

Earmuffs give good protection if they gently but firmly touch your head and completely cover your ears. They are best for really loud noise or for sounds with very low frequency.

Clean earmuffs often and replace them when they no longer fit snugly and keep out noise. If you cannot maintain a good seal because you wear glasses, have long hair or sideburns, or because the earmuffs move when you talk or chew, it might be better to use earplugs.

Earplugs

Earplugs are made from cotton dipped in wax, rubber, or foam. Earplugs can protect your hearing if they are the right size for your ear and are properly inserted in your ears. They should be small enough to fit comfortably and expand to fill the entry into the ear. Most foam earplugs are inexpensive and are made to be used only 1 time.

If you reuse earplugs, make sure they return to their original shape after you pinch them. If they do not expand to fill your ear, they will not protect you. Molded earplugs can be reused. Clean them after every use with soap and water or alcohol. Let them dry completely before using them again.

Plain cotton or cloth earplugs do not protect you well from noise. If you do not have access to rubber or foam earplugs, you can make better cotton ones by dipping them in petroleum jelly. Make new ones each day because reusing them might cause an ear infection.

For some kinds of noise, you might have to use both earplugs and earmuffs.

Insert earplugs so they work

To block noise and protect your hearing, earplugs need to get into the right part of your ear. To make sure earplugs fit well:

  1. Clean your hands and the plugs when you insert the plugs. This will help prevent ear infections.
  2. Roll the plug between your fingers to make a long, thin cylinder.
  3. Open the ear. To put the plug in your left ear, hold the rolled plug in the fingers of your right hand. Reach your right arm over the top of your head and grab the top of your left ear. Gently pull your ear up and back a little. This opens up your ear canal to make it easier to fit the plug in.
  4. Insert and hold the plug. Insert the narrow tip of the rolled plug into your ear canal as far as it will go. Press the earplug gently into your ear and hold it there with the tip of your finger while it expands to fill your ear canal. This takes about 30 seconds. You should feel the foam expanding to fill your ear and notice noises become much quieter.
  5. Check the fit. Cup your hands over your plugged ears and notice how loud noises are. Remove your hands from over your ears and notice how loud noises are. If they sound about the same, the plugs fit your ears. If the noise is louder when you remove your hands, then the plugs do not fit your ears well and you need to pull them out and try to put them in again. If you still cannot make them fit well, they may be the wrong size for your ears or the foam may be too worn to work well.