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Got a Train to Catch? Grab Your Earplugs!

A recent study published by hearing health professionals from the University of Washington and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health clearly demonstrates that subway and train noise cause permanent hearing loss with as little as two minutes exposure to the trains roaring into the station twice a day.

The study, conducted on New York’s mass transit systems revealed starling evidence that even short doses of train noise in the city’s subway and train systems can cause irreversible hearing loss.

Check out these statistics:

  • A whisper produces 30 dBs of sound.
  • A chainsaw puts out 100 dBs
  • Gunfire comes in at 140 dBs
  • A jet plane flying 100 feet over your head can put out even more loud noise.

The study was conducted on MTA subways, PATH trains, MTA buses and even ferries pulling into the piers from Staten Island. But though the study was localized, you can be certain that if you’re riding mass transit your ears are being assaulted every time you get on the train. And this daily assault, coupled with all of the other ambient noise that surrounds us each day, causes hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise over a long period of time.

All Aboard The Hearing Train

Now check out these numbers:

  • Subways had the highest noise levels at 80.4 decibels.
  • Trains pull in at about 79.4 decibels.
  • The overhead trains deliver 77 dBs.
  • Standing on the subway platform as the train pulls in exposes your ears to an average of 102.1 dBs.

Some of the study’s findings aren’t surprising. It’s noisier outside the train than inside. The train itself provides some sound protection. Hub stations had much higher sound levels than local stops. That makes sense; you’ve got more trains in a smaller space.

new york city subway
NYC Subway goes rushing by exposing this woman to 80+ dB

So maybe you’re thinking I’ll take the bus and cut down on noise exposure. However each day whether taking the bus to work or waiting for the 7:15, our ears are bombarded with dangerously high levels of noise that, over time, will contribute to permanent hearing loss.

Is there anything we can do about it? Sure, there are lots of options where hearing protection is concerned. The question is: are you going to take the extra step to protect your hearing every day? If you go out and buy a set of earplugs, use them for a week, and forget where you put them, they aren’t going to do much good. So, not only do you need sound protection gear, you need to recognize the dangers of loud noise that surround us in any big city. Even small cities can get loud.

Hearing Protection Options

Protecting the hearing you’ve got – whether perfect pitch or perfectly awful – is pro-active, inexpensive and pretty easy. In most cases you don’t need a professional’s advice to choose the best option for your particular needs.

What works best for the protection of your hearing? There are pros and cons to the wide range of options:

Foam ear plugs, found at your local pharmacy, are a low-cost alternative, especially for those who are exposed to loud noises occasionally, as in the homeowner who mows the lawn each weekend. These ear plugs are inserted by using your fingers to roll them into a tiny, tightly compressed tube shape and carefully placing in the ear canal.  They are worn whenever exposure to loud noise is anticipated.

They’re disposable but durable, and for most wearers, they’re comfortable because the wearer adjusts fit. The downside? Foam ear plugs reduce the quality of the sounds your are listening to. No problem when riding the lawn mower for an hour a week but problematic for persons who enjoy listening to loud music or attending a concert.

Wax ear plugs are also low-cost, available at most pharmacies and, like foam plugs, can be shaped to fit the wearer comfortably. The wax is also waterproof if scuba is part of your job description (or you sweat a lot riding that lawn mower Saturday mornings).

Also ideal for keeping water from entering the ear canal while showering – a potentially harmful situation for some. The downside, once again, is that wax ear plugs block all sound – the good and the dangerous and most importantly is proper insertion is necessary for protection.

Custom earplugs with specialized filters are designed to block out ear-damaging noise but utilize special filters to better control exactly what and how much noise is being blocked.

These custom earplugs typically are more expensive and require a visit to a hearing professional’s office. The hearing professional take impressions of the ear in order for the plugs to be custom made to your ears.

The hearing professional will then assist you in choosing the type of filter placed inside the custom earmolds. The filter choice will depend on what you are protecting your ears from. For example there are specialized filters for musicians, motorcyclists, dentists, construction workers, hunters and the list goes on and on. Musicians utilize a filter that maintains the spectral quality of music while reducing overall level to protect the hearing. Dentists and dental hygienists utilize filters that allow maintaining basic communication abilities while reducing levels of the noise from the tools they use.

Custom earplugs with filters are your best bet in specialized protection while providing overall comfort since they are custom made for your ears.

Ear muffs are standard issue in high noise workplaces. They’re lightweight, fit outside the ear, a universal fit, enable complete hear-through and don’t cause ear “fatigue” after a long day. Wearers can slip them on or off as noise levels demand.

If your job entails loud noise but you want wearing comfort, and the ability to talk over the drone of the factory floor, hear-through ear muffs are an excellent choice.

Noise-cancellation earphones are used while listening to your favorite Mp3 player or other audio device. The idea is these earphones block out unwanted background noised around you which reduces the need for you to turn the headphones up to higher levels in order to hear your music.

Listening to loud music has become a major concern in younger generations and studies have shown noise cancellation headphones to reduce the need to listen to the music at such high levels. These are ideal for persons riding mass transit. They block out the unwanted noise allowing you to listen to your music at normal levels and protect you from damaging noise.

Noise cancellation earphones run from low-cost to high-tech and pricey. The are a wonderful investment for music lovers who find themselves on planes and trains often.

Protection Is Key

Protecting the hearing you have is something only you can do. You can go low-cost, low-tech foam or wax or high-tech, high-end noise cancellation earphones depending upon your protection needs.  An important consideration on any hearing protection is that you wear it properly.  When not worn properly, hearing protection is less effective, so take time to read the directions on how to use.

If you have a specific specialize need for hearing protection, consult with a hearing professional who will help you determine the best option for you.

With the help of a hearing professional, you can enjoy hearing the sounds of life longer.

But, you have to go pro-active. You have to be the one to make the purchase and actually wear them! You’ve only got two ears. And noise-induced hearing loss is permanent.

So what are you going to do? All aboard!

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