Sounds over 120 decibels can cause immediate damage to your ears, and listening to sounds over 70 decibels for a prolonged period will also result in hearing loss.

While wearing earplugs is a good start, not all earplugs block out the same noise level. Therefore, you may still experience hearing damage while wearing earplugs.

This is why it's essential to do a little research on ear protection prior to purchasing.

How earplugs are scored

Each earplug is given a score on the Noise Reduction Rating system (NRR), and the score matches the number of decibels it blocks.

For example, an earplug with a 15 NRR only blocks 15 decibels of sound.

While the highest an earplug can block is 33 decibels, the average earplug blocks about 15-30 decibels.

As you can see, wearing a 15 NRR earplug around a fighter jet (roughly 160 decibels) will still expose you to 145 decibels. At 145 decibels, you're still 25 decibels over the threshold for immediate hearing damage.

Therefore, we've put together a guide to help you choose the right earplug based on the activity you'll perform.

Hearing protection for rock concerts and musicians

Musicians and rock concert attendees should always wear ear protection as the average sound level at a rock concert is roughly 120 decibels. Even classical concerts can be quite loud, reaching 98 decibels.

One issue many musicians faced was sound distortion while wearing earplugs. This posed a problem as musicians needed to hear the sounds around them clearly to perform. Ultimately, this issue caused many musicians to discard hearing protection altogether.

Fortunately, musicians' hearing protection has become increasingly advanced, and earplugs now reduce all decibels equally to avoid distorting the music. In addition to rock concert protection, there are also earplugs explicitly designed for classical and jazz musicians playing woodwind and brass instruments that need to hear loud and soft sounds.

Hearing protection for working in a garage

If you love working on DIY projects in a garage, you might be exposing yourself to damaging noise. Tools such as an electric drill, grinder, and sander all register above 95 decibels and some up to 120 decibels. Even just a few hours of sanding or cutting wood can cause severe damage. Therefore, be sure to purchase earplugs that are at least 15 NRR.

Hearing protection for the military

The people that protect our country are at the highest risk of exposure to damaging noise. In a recent study, roughly 7.5 percent of military personnel reported experiencing hearing loss after deployment. Additionally, veterans have a much higher rate of hearing loss disorders such as tinnitus. 

Therefore, having the highest protection available is essential.

Advanced military-approved earplugs now offer two different settings. The primary setting allows you to hear commands and other background noises, while the second switch is an NRR 33, the highest possible. This switch does its best to keep you safe from combat noises such as explosions and artillery fire.

Hearing protection for the stadium

Whether you're watching a car race or attending a particularly exciting football game, using stadium earplugs can protect your hearing while you enjoy your favorite entertainment. 

In fact, one football game recorded a noise level of 142.2 decibels, nearly the same noise level as a firecracker. 

It's not uncommon for many people to leave a sports game with temporary hearing loss, and even with low-level earplugs, you're still at risk. Therefore, be sure to purchase appropriate earplugs depending on the game you’ll be attending.

Choosing hearing protection for any activity

Choosing the right level of hearing protection is essential when purchasing earplugs. If there aren't earplugs explicitly designed for your activity, research the maximum decibel of your activity and purchase an earplug appropriate for that decibel range. 

Even just one exposure to loud noise can leave you with permanent damage. Prevention is affordable, easy-to-use, and effective, so take advantage of it!