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 was conducted on MTA subways, PATH trains and MTA buses and, though the study was localized, you can be certain that if you're riding mass transit your ears have the potential of being assaulted every time you get on the train.
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.
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 effort to protect your hearing every day?
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.
Foam ear plugs are a low-cost alternative, especially for those who are exposed to loud noises occasionally. These ear plugs can be purchased at any pharmacy and should be inserted, shaped to the contours of the ears and then 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.
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, ideal for keeping water from entering the ear canal and are often used while swimming for persons who become irritated from water entering the ear canals.
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 and assists you in choosing the most optimal filter based on the type of noise you are exposed to. For example there are specialized filters for musicians, motorcyclists, dentists, construction workers, hunters and the list goes on and on.
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 and don't cause ear "fatigue" after a long day. Wearers can slip them on or off as noise levels demand. Some models also allow "hear-through" capabilities when the noise is not present. This type of muff is often used by hunters and construction workers as hearing is also a factor in safety when noise is not present.
Noise-cancellation earphones are designed to listen to your favorite music while reduce the effects of the background noise in your environment. The positive aspect of these is the wearer is less likely to turn their music up high to overcome background noise.
Noise cancellation earphones run from low-cost to high-tech and pricey. For persons riding mass transit that enjoy listening to music to pass the time, these are optimal as they will reduce the background noise allowing you to listen to your favorite tunes at reasonable safe levels.
Bottom line is to be proactive. You've only got two ears. And hearing loss is permanent.
So what are you going to do? All aboard!