Can bluetooth earpieces work as hearing protection? Many bluetooth headphones are advertised as noise canceling. Noise canceling headphones help transfer audio more clearly and cancels out other frequencies creating a noise reduction feature. Apple airpods have the option of noise cancellation, and transparency features. Noise cancellation works by limiting certain frequencies so that other frequencies like music are more prominent. The transparency feature actually works to heighten the environmental sounds. True Noise protection earplugs are designed to significantly reduce the sound levels reaching the ear. Noise cancellation works great for reducing the environmental sounds while listening to music or audio. The noise cancellation feature allows people to hear the incoming audio better without having to turn up the volume to overcome the environment. It is important to note that noise cancellation does not take the place of true hearing protection in certain environments.
Importance of Hearing Protection
Loud sounds can be damaging to the ears and cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Our system is fragile and once damaged it cannot be repaired. The inner ear system contains the sensorineural component of our hearing system. The hearing organ, the cochlea is a snail shaped organ that contains hair cells which send neural impulses to our brain when vibrated by sound. The hair cells are very fragile and can be damaged by noise exposure, medication, illness, and age. Single Loud Noise exposure and long term noise exposure over time can both cause permanent damage to the hair cells. They can lose sensitivity, and complete ability to transfer sound impulses at all. Once the hair cells are damaged there is currently not a medication or surgery to regain their function or regenerate them.
Noise exposure is preventable and a proper hearing protection can prevent lifelong damage to the ears and hearing. Noise exposure damage is something we can prevent. So many people listen to music too loud, run power tools, or go to the shooting range without ear protection. A common misconception is that, oh not much damage will occur with one incident. Unfortunately, damage occurs over time and can greatly affect our hearing as we age. Noise damage can occur with a single loud sound or loud noise exposure over time. Both types are concerning and can cause permanent damage. Wearing Ear protection (decreasing the loudness of sound reaching the inner ear) protects our ears from cumulative exposure and single incidents. It is recommended ear protection be worn when sound reaches louder than 85 dB. This includes but is not limited to concerts, music, power tools, occupational exposure, and shooting range.
For occupational scenarios, OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has strict guidelines on necessary hearing protection. OSHA requires that employers need to make hearing protection available to all employees exposed to an 8 hour average of 85 decibels or greater at no cost. Employers must be given a choice of at least one type of earplug or ear muffs. The employer is responsible for ensuring proper fit and supervising correct use of ear protection.
Types of Hearing Protection
Hearing protection can be as simple as reusable or disable foam ear pieces or over the ear muffs to custom ear protection. Situations where custom ear protection is important are for musicians where being able to hear themselves play or sing but still protect from loud volumes is important. Occupational work such as a factory where communication is necessary but still need protection from loud machinery.
If traditional foam earpieces do not fit properly, fall out easily or are not comfortable then consider seeing an Audiologist to have custom ear protection made. Custom ear protection can offer changeable filters to allow for different levels of noise reduction and still allow for communication needs.
Bluetooth Hearing Protection
Bluetooth Hearing Protection (different from bluetooth headphones) allows not only the traditional features of sound protection and communication abilities but also for streaming audio, phone calls, or music. Some options such as the Starkey Phantom allow for low gain amplification as well as hearing protection. This option is great for patients who have hearing loss but still have communication needs when wearing ear protection. Amplification plus ear protection in one device is also great for Hunters. Hunters often complain they don’t want to wear ear protection because they can no longer hear the leaves, rustles or movements. Giving amplification for low sounds but cutting off loud sounds and gun blasts is a great compromise. For safety reasons being able to hear conversations, game and environmental noise is often necessary. Bluetooth protection gives people more custom options than traditional hearing protection.
Can Bluetooth earbuds be used as hearing protection?
Using noise-canceling earbuds or headphones in place of hearing protection may cause permanent hearing impairment if not used correctly. Noise canceling headphones work great to reduce environmental sounds for comfort but are not appropriate for occupational exposure, Gun shots, or power equipment. The noise reduction rating will not be enough to provide proper protection in these scenarios. Bluetooth headphones will naturally provide some noise reduction due to the nature of reducing outside noise, they are not designed by fit or filtering to be used as a primary ear protection method especially for louder dB citations such as gunshots, power tools or occupational noise.
Preventing Hearing Damage
Wearing hearing protection in very loud environments is greatly encouraged, however many people forget about the everyday noise exposure we all encounter. For music lovers, wearing noise canceling headphones helps reduce the need to crank up the volume because the streamed audio or music tends to be much more clear without blaring the volume especially in a noisy environment. Keeping a set of ear protection muffs or reusable foam ear protection in the garage next to power tools for ease of use cuts down on excuses of why protection is not being used. Mowing the grass is a big one that many people have regular exposure, but often forget can be damaging. Bring along ear plugs to sporting events. Sporting arenas with loud crowds have been measured to be as loud as a jet plane! Resist the urge to bump the music in the car so loud that the vibrations can be felt across the street! It won’t be long before loud music exposure will cause permanent damage. Musicians should definitely consider a musician’s ear plug or musician ear monitors to protect their ears for years of music enjoyment!
We only get one set of ears. Our hearing system is fragile and should be protected from a young age with regular exposure. Foam ear protection and ear muffs are very affordable options found at Big Box stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Amazon. For custom options, see an audiologist for custom ear impressions and a precise fit for ultimate protection and sound quality. Utilize the noise canceling headphones for those situations that don’t require further noise reduction. Protect those ears so that you don’t have a lifetime of struggling to hear and a need to wear hearing aids due to abusing your ears with noise. Prevention is the key!