Preventing Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Custom Musician's Plugs. Westone

Loud noise can cause hearing loss and tinnitus. If you already have hearing loss or tinnitus, loud noise can cause more damage and make the tinnitus worse. The louder a sound is, the faster it can damage your hearing. Power tools, lawnmowers, and chainsaws are very loud. You should never use them without hearing protection (earplugs and/or earmuffs). Loud music, whether live or recorded, can cause damage.

Even traffic noise can cause damage if you are exposed to it for many hours in one day. Driving with the window open for several hours at a time can cause noise damage, especially in the ear closest to the window.

The Louder a Sound is, the Faster it Can Damage Your Hearing
  Dangerous after:
Extremely Loud

Firing a gun is so loud it can damage your hearing immediately.


Using a chainsaw for two minutes can damage your hearing.

Less than 1 second (gunshot); about 2 minutes (chainsaw)
Very LoudMowing the lawn with a gas push mower for two hours can damage your hearing. About 2 hours
LoudDriving in city traffic for eight hours can damage your hearing. About 8 hours

There are many types of hearing protection. They can be obtained from audiologists, sporting goods stores, industrial supply stores, and home improvement stores.

  • Standard Earplugs are low cost and "one size fits all". Yellow foam earplugs are the most common. For foam earplugs, proper insertion is very important. They need to be inserted almost completely into the ear canal with very little of the plug left outside the ear canal. If not used properly, they may not give you enough protection from sound. You can try different earplugs to find what works best for you. Standard earplugs should be thrown away if they become dirty or worn. If you have a draining ear they should be replaced after each use to prevent infection. Never put anything in a draining ear without clearance from your physician.
  • Custom Earplugs are made to fit your ear. An audiologist can have them made for you. Custom earplugs are usually very comfortable, easy to use, and can last for years. This is an excellent option if you have a very small/very large ear canal or a deep bend in your ear canal that may make it difficult to insert a standard earplug correctly. Custom earplugs can be made of hypoallergenic material and can be washed to prevent infection. 
  • Hi-fi Earplugs reduce loudness equally for all frequencies. This avoids the muffled effect that is caused by most earplugs. Hi-fi earplugs were designed for musicians who need to hear music clearly. These earplugs also work well when you need to hear speech in a noisy environment. This is an excellent choice for students in band and orchestra. Hi-fi earplugs are available in custom shells with different filters depending on how much noise reduction is needed or in a less expensive standard version. 
  • Electronic Earplugs allow you to hear soft sounds but reduces very loud sounds, such as gunshots. These earplugs are used mainly by hunters. Non-electronic earplugs are also available for this purpose. 
  • Earmuffs can be used instead of earplugs or along with earplugs when you are around extremely loud noise like gunfire or chainsaws. It is important that the earmuffs fit snugly around the ears to get a good seal. Wearing glasses or a hood under the earmuffs will make them less effective.


Henry, James et al (nd). How to manage your Tinnitus: A Step by Step Workbook. Third Edition. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

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