Hearing Protection Fit & Seal
It doesn't matter what attenuation rating or earplug class you're using if you wear them incorrectly!
In noise attenuation, any small channel or leak allows the noise to enter, and the protection quickly deteriorates from “all” to “none”.
To cater for poor real-world fit, the National Institute for Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends derating foam earplugs by 50% and earmuffs by 25%. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends derating all hearing protectors by 50%.
In reality, people with poorly fit or incorrectly worn earplugs have little to no protection from the noise. In fact, a poorly fit ear plug often creates a resonance cavity in the ear canal that actually increases the noise level, similar to cupping your hand around your ear to hear better.
Remember, if you're operating a chainsaw (120 dB), your hearing could start to degrade after just 30 seconds, so don't pull your earplugs out "a little", even for a “quick chat”!
Which is why people spend money on custom earplugs
Custom earplugs are meant to offer an exact fit for your ears, since they are made from impressions taken from your ear. Technology and research has improved over the years, and what we have discovered is that the fit and seal is what matters. Many people are unaware that there are non-custom earplugs using the same high-fidelity acoustic filters, and these earplugs can be just as effective custom earplugs! If you can achieve a comfortable fit and seal with non-custom earplugs, you don't need to spend the extra few hundred bucks to achieve the same result.
Problem is, most non-custom reusable earplugs only come in 2 sizes, “regular” and “large” (which often translate to White Cat Large and X-Large eartips). These don't provide a good and comfortable seal for most people. White Cat Earplugs come with 4 sizes of eartips – Small, Medium, Large and X-Large, and fits 80-90% of the population. This makes it a far more affordable solution, with the same result! Bear in mind that your ears might not be the same size – Your left ear might be a Medium, and your right might be a Small. That’s perfectly normal.
After inserting your earplugs (the diagram on the right shows how), check if your earplugs have the correct fit and seal using these three quick steps:
Test 1: Talk
Say something out loud while wearing both your earplugs. You should hear a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound of your own voice. This is also known as the occlusion effect. When you hear this, you’ll know that your earplugs are providing sufficient attenuation.
Test 2: Tap
Gently tap the tragus of the ear. Your earplugs have the right fit for your ears when you hear the so-called ‘bass drum effect’. If the earplugs go too deep in the ear canal, the earplugs are too small. If the earplug protrudes too far and the third flange is fully visible, you need a smaller size. It is also important that your earplugs feel comfortable.
Test 3: Listen
The third and final test is to listen with both earplugs in your ears. Do you experience a clean sound in your ears together with some proper attenuation? Listen to the background noise – the hum of your heat pump or the sound of passing traffic - Is that volume now much lower? High-fidelity acoustic earplugs sometimes surprise people because they can still hear so much clarity in speech. When you have a full, comfortable fit but still hear clean sound and proper attenuation, you can assume that your earplug fit and seal is correct.
Rather than ramble on at you on how you should insert your earplugs, we thought a simple diagram and video, courtesy of NIOSH, would suffice ;)
Inserting Foam and White Cat Filtered Foam Earplugs
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Gunshots, hammering, clanging pots and the hiss of the espresso machine. Non-linear earplugs can handle that.