Solving the Problem: Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

June 24, 2013

Can you get the right answer if you ask the wrong question?

Common sense would dictate that asking how to get to the beach would seldom get you directions to the mountains.  Likewise, trying to solve the problem of Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) by fixing how people choose and put in their hearing protection might be only part of the answer.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is still a concern.

Noisy workplaceNoise Induced Hearing Loss affects, by some reports, 1/3 of the persons in North America working in noise. If 1/3 of the people in New York City had the same malady, you can bet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would respond.  Likewise, the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health, the CDC’s workplace health and safety arm, has been on the case of NIHL for decades.  Regrettably, it is still a real problem.

In the last five years, several products have come on the market designed to measure the attenuation hearing protectors give to the people wearing them. These are  portable systems to measure the attenuation real people get in their work settings as opposed to measurements in a laboratory.  The granddaddy of these systems, FitCheck, has been around since 1994 and has been used extensively by companies like Alcoa to measure how effective their workers are at selecting and inserting effective hearing protection.  The problem these systems are trying to resolve is: How do we marry the right hearing protector with an individual and teach him or her to get the attenuation needed for it

Certainly this is a worthwhile goal provided once the protector is fit, it stays in their ears.  Aye, but there’s the rub.  Dr. Peter Rabinovitch has studied Alcoa’s hearing conservation program for many years. Dr. Rabinovitch says that “he can see no outcomes in Alcoa’s hearing conservation program attributable to the use of Fit Checking systems”.  That’s a lot of teaching and testing for no improvement in reducing NIHL.

Dr. Barry Bessler, in a speech to the National Hearing Conservation Association in 2007  tried to explain why rational, intelligent, normal people would turn up their digital music players loud enough to hurt their ears. Dr. Bessler’s answer was reasoned and complex.  One of the points he made is relevant to this conversation. He theorized that our sense of hearing is “hard wired” to our sense of safety.  Impair hearing and we don’t feel safe. In wanting to keep “in touch” with our environment, to feel safe, we need to be able to hear.  Therefore, if we are using hearing protection it must not block our ability to hear.  It must just make it safe to do so.  Given that most types of hearing protection substantially reduce our ability to hear our environment, will workers keep these protectors in their ears?  The evidence seems to indicate that they won’t.

This brings me back to my original point, in developing systems/machines to measure attenuation are we solving the problem of NIHL.  So what  we need to do is not worry about how much noise reduction a properly-worn hearing protector may provide if inserted in total compliance with the manufactuer’s instruction. What we need to worry about  is whether the protector is providing sufficient noise reduction for the noise in which the wearer works. Instead of using these systems/machines to teach, we should be using them to verify.


If Joe is  is carrying a noise burden of 92 dBA  and he needs only 17 dB of noise reduction to be safe  and can get a consistent 17 dB of noise reduction from an earplug with an NRR of 33 dB, GOOD! Joe doesn’t have to be taught how to get 33 dB of noise reduction. Or, in the case of a custom earplug, one should be made for Joe that givens him 17 dB of noise reduction.


I’m afraid I have my doubts that such a direction will be taken.  We need to be talking about making hearing protection as invisible to hearing as safety glasses are to vision. Instead, we have made them as cumbersome as full-face respirators.

In the interest of full disclosure Custom Protect Ear sells and supports the FitCheck and FitCheck Solo attenuation measurement systems. We do so understanding that they can be used as a tool to teach the effectiveness of hearing protection.  


ASSE Safety Show If you have something to add to this discussion, and you will be attending ASSE 2013 in Las Vegas this June, please come by and share it with me.
Custom Protect Ear is in booth # 551.

If you won’t be there, drop me a line to


Jeffrey Goldberg | President
Custom Protect Ear

Types of Noise Induced Hearing Problems

April 23, 2012

Types of Noise Induced Hearing Problems

Noise Induced Hearing Loss - How Loud is Too Loud?Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) can be temporary or permanent, but is always caused by – you guessed it – noise! People with exposure to loud noise can suffer two types of NIHL (temporary NIHL and long-term NIHL). These can be prevented by wearing form fitting ear protection, but once the damage is done, it is usually irreversible. One thing is certain, if you work in noise and YOU don’t take responsibility for protecting your hearing, you will lose some or all of it before you retire.

Temporary NIHL

Temporary noise induced hearing loss occurs when a person is subjected to a sudden, extremely loud noise like a gun shot, explosion or fireworks display. It can also be caused by loud music at a rock concert. The symptoms can include muffled hearing, dizziness, and pain in the ear. The symptoms can last from several hours to several days. While hearing will likely return to normal, the damage usually has been done. In some cases hearing loss will be immediate and permanent .If you are exposed to these sounds often, it will lead to a degree of permanent hearing loss.

Long-term NIHL

Long-term noise induced hearing loss happens when a person has been exposed to continuous loud noises over a long period of time. Often long-term NIHL usually occurs in a noisy workplace environment. Common industries where employees report long-term NIHL are manufacturing, music, mining, transportation, railway and construction. But recreational activities like snowmobiling, mowing the lawn, and woodworking, and even blow drying hair can cause long-term NIHL. Long-term hearing loss symptoms appear gradually. Sounds may be muffled or a person may have trouble hearing in a restaurant or public place with a lot of background noise.

How Can My Hearing Be Protected?

Wearing hearing protection can help but only if it is sufficient for the noise you are in and worn effectively.  While we often can’t control the noise in our environment, we can control how we deal with the noise. We recommend everyone who has frequent exposure to noisy situations, whether on the job or at home, wear custom hearing protection. Sure, we recommend it because we are a hearing protection company, but we also care about everyone’s hearing, and for over 30 years it’s been our goal to help prevent noise induced hearing loss before it’s too late.

Learn More About Custom Hearing Protection for You and Your Company

800-520-0220 or email us below

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(First & Last)

Noise Induced Hearing Loss

April 12, 2012


Noise Induced Hearing LossNoise Induced Hearing Loss

According to the National Institute of Health, 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have noise induced hearing loss that was caused by exposure to loud noises, either at leisure or at work.

That’s 26 million people in the United States that have trouble hearing high frequency sounds.  That’s 26 million people for whom music sounds poorer and understanding a person speaking can be a challenge.

Temporary Hearing Loss vs. Permanent Hearing Loss

The effects of loud noise exposure may seem temporary when our hearing seems to “return to normal” after a period of time. The fact is that Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) can appear to have a temporary effect but long term effects often happen gradually.  Temporary hearing loss results from exposure to loud noises over a short period of time, such as a rock concert or fireworks display. When that happens, sounds may seem muffled. This affect can last from several hours to several days.

Permanent hearing loss can occur suddenly when an extremely loud noise happens close to the ear, such as a gunshot or blast. It can also happen over time when a person is exposed to loud sounds repeatedly over many years. On-the-job (occupational) noise is one of the most common sources of harmful noise, largely because a person is subjected to the sounds all day, every day, for many years.

Noises above 82 decibels cause damage. What is 82 decibels? City traffic that you can hear from inside your car measures about 82 decibels. Many occupational tasks emanate sounds louder than 82 decibels.
For example:

• Power saw at 3 feet away: 110 dB
• Sandblasting: 115 dB
• Pneumatic riveter at 4 feet away: 125 dB
• Power mower at 3 feet away: 107 dB

Now 110 dB doesn’t appear to be that much louder than 82 dB, but at 110 dB you reach your TOTAL daily permissible noise exposure in only 1 minute and 52 seconds. That’s only starting a lawn mower unprotected before hearing damage occurs.

Noise Induced Hearing Loss is 100% Preventable

And are you ready for this? If you have already been exposed to noise levels above the recommended levels, you can stop further damage from occurring. How? The National Institute of Health recommends knowing what sounds occur above 85 dBs, and wearing earplugs or other hearing protective devices.

We are truly concerned about the effects that environmental and occupational noises have on hearing loss. That’s why we started Custom Protect Ear. We are devoted to helping people live healthier lives by preventing noise induced hearing loss in a safe, effective and comfortable way. We encourage you to learn as much about hearing loss prevention as you can, so we invite you to return to our blog where we will provide informative and enlightening articles about hearing, noise levels, ear protection, environmental and occupational noise hazards.