Alternatives to Ear Plugs

Updated June 09, 2017

The intensity of sounds is measured in decibels (dB). Permanent hearing damage can be caused by regular exposure to sounds over 85 dB. For example, this is slightly less than the sound produced by a lawnmower and most power tools. This process usually happens so gradually most people do not initially notice the hearing loss. Ear plugs are the main means of hearing protection, but they have some limitations. Alternatives to standard ear plugs, including ear muffs, headphone monitors, and musician ear plugs, can compensate for these limitations.

Ear Plug Limitations

There are several reasons why people choose alternatives to ear plugs. Disposable ear plugs cost a significant amount of money if used every day, which is common for people who work in loud environments. People sometimes have trouble keeping ear plugs in their ears, which can lead to exposure to the noises the ear plugs are meant to block. In addition, standard ear plugs interfere with hearing in a manner detrimental to some users, most notably musicians, who require more specialised hearing protection.

Ear Muffs

Earmuffs are the most common and basic alternative to ear plugs. Earmuffs look like large headphones that cover the entire ear. The cups on the earmuffs form a seal around the ear that blocks sound. This is a good alternative for people who have trouble keeping ear plugs in place. This method of hearing protection can also protect against more intense noises, due to the design. The disadvantage of earmuffs is that users with long hair or glasses may experience discomfort wearing them.

Headphone Monitors

Monitors are tools used by musicians with electrical instruments. A monitor is a speaker set up solely for the purpose of allowing a musician to hear her own instrument. This is necessary when she is on stage in a position that does not allow her to hear the speakers delivering the sound to the audience. Headphone monitors usually provide a functional alternative to ear plugs. The hearing protection is usually obtained by using an earmuff. A speaker is attached inside the cup, transmitting sound to the wearer. This provides hearing protection while still allowing the musician to hear her instrument.

Musician Ear Plugs

Musician ear plugs are a substantially different type of hearing protection. They are reusable, which can save money for those who need them. Musician ear plugs are specially designed to eliminate sound intensity with minimal alteration to the sound itself. Musicians mainly use them to protect their hearing without interfering with their ability to clearly hear the exact sounds of their instruments. Due to the design, this form of hearing protection is limited. Musician ear plugs usually cannot protect against sounds louder than 105 dB, which is lower than some standard ear plugs. This is usually not an issue for musicians, since these specialised plugs provide enough protection for their needs.

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About the Author

Matthew Anderson started as a writer and editor in 2003. He has written content used in a textbook published by Wiley Publishing, among other publications. Anderson majored in chemical engineering and has training in guitar performance, music theory and song composition.