By Emily France, Creative Content Curator | Safety Supplier @rapidfiresupplies | People Person | Theatre Type & Arts Supporter
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Earmuffs vs Earplugs
The two main types of hearing protective gear are earmuffs and earplugs. Does it really matter if you use earplugs vs earmuffs? How do earmuffs work? How do I insert earplugs? All these questions and more will be answered below, allowing you to make an informed decision on which form of ear protection will work best for you and your workplace.
When working in a hazardous environment finding the right PPE is, of course, key. It must allow you to be protected from the dangers posed without impeding on your ability to do your job e.g. your PPE must not be too hot, heavy or bulky. These issues are factored in when choosing your high vis or head protection but should also be considered when selecting your hearing protection device (HPD). The choice that you make could result in you correctly protecting your hearing or putting yourself at risk of serious noise-induced hearing loss.
Earplugs vs Earmuffs
Here’s a quick break down of what to expect from your earplugs or earmuffs. These advantages and disadvantages should give some insight to the differences between these HPDs and help to lay the foundation of which device will work best for you.
EARMUFFS VS EARPLUGS
|ADVANTAGES||One-size-fits-all design means that they will comfortably fit most people.|
User friendly and very easy to put on and take off.
Larger device means they are hard to misplace.
|Portable, small and compact they are easy to slip into your pocket or bag.|
Inserted into the ear, so they don’t interfere/ get in the way of other PPE (helmets/ goggles etc).
Not irritating in hot environments, comfortable to wear for long time periods.
Work well in small or confined spaces, there is no risk of them getting knocked off.
|DISADVANTAGES||Large size makes them slightly less portable. |
Can collide with other PPE such as hard hat/ be knocked off by machinery and other hazards.
Uncomfortable to wear in hot or humid environments.
|Small size makes them easy to lose or misplace.|
High levels of hygiene required for inserting and removing – to avoid infection.
Can cause discomfort in the ear canal.
Takes time to put on and remove.
What are Earmuffs?
Earmuffs are HPDs that are characterized by an adjustable headband which joins together the two ear cups that sit at either end. Once placed around the outside of the ears the muffs should have enough force to clamp onto the ears, blocking out the surrounding noise without being uncomfortable for the user to wear.
There are two main types of earmuff: passive and active.
Passive earmuffs protect the wearer by absorbing sounds. The cushioned foam that makes up the earmuff can absorb incoming sounds and reduce the amplitude by increasing the overall air resistance. The headband is usually constructed from thermoplastic, plastic or metal which can affect the durability and price-point of the earmuffs in question. Some passive earmuffs are made out of softer materials for the purpose of keeping the ears warm as opposed to cancelling out sound, they tend to come in a wider range of colours and fabrics due to being designed for fashion as well as warmth. They are easy to spot as they do not have the hard outer shell that’s found on noise reduction earmuffs.
The lack of electronics means that passive earmuffs are a relatively cheap option whilst still offering suitable, continuous hearing protection. They are a good option for activities such as lawn mowing and working with heavy machinery. These earmuffs can also be used by people who are sensitive to sound such as children who have ADHD, the option to wear passive earmuffs can help them to concentrate in school or in busy environments.
Click on versions of passive earmuffs are almost identical to the headband version, however they are especially useful for people who wear a hard-hat as they can be easily attached when required.
Active earmuffs usually have a headband design and take advantage of technology. The ear cups are made with soft foam materials for comfort then fitted with microphones and speakers. Electronic Noise Cancellation or Active Noise Cancellation technology enables the earmuff to filter in and out sounds depending on their frequencies. This gives the user the option to allow and disallow certain noises.
Although they are a more expensive option, active earmuffs do live up to their luxury price-point as they are extremely reliable. However, they may be more at risk to damage in work environments with high impact machinery.
What are Earplugs?
A tiny HPD that can be inserted directly into your ear, earplugs are a highly effective, budget friendly option to protect your hearing.
There are two main types of earplugs: disposable (one-time-use) and re-usable.
Small, made of foam and usually brightly coloured – to avoid them getting lost – disposable earplugs are widely used by a range of people from industrial workers to soldiers.
How do I insert an earplug?
- Wash your hands if they are visibly dirty or use a hand sanitiser that is at least 70% alcohol.
- Compress the earplug between you thumb and forefinger, push it gently into your ear canal (do not force it) and allow the end to slightly stick out of your ear.
- It should fit snugly.
Once inserted you will feel the earplug expand in your ear. This takes up the remaining gaps and seals off your ear, reducing the overall noise.
Always clean your hands before removing the earplug to reduce risk of infection.
There are lots of options when it comes to reusable earplugs. A slightly more expensive option, they can be cost-effective in the long run and enable you to be more specific with the type of hearing protection you need.
- Custom made – It is possible to get a mold of your ear canal usually made of rubber, silicone or plastic.
- Electronic – Work in a similar way to active earmuffs where they use a microphone and speaker system to reduce loud sounds and can even amplify small sounds for the user.
- Non-linear acoustic filtered earplugs – Made from breathable materials that allow moisture to escape the ear, keeping it ventilated whilst reducing the the occlusion effect.
Should I buy earplugs or earmuffs?
Hopefully by now you have a clear idea of the similarities and difference between these two types of HPDs. In short, the hearing protection you chose must be based on the activity you are doing. Both earmuffs and earplugs are effective protective devices, therefore you must ask yourself, am I working in an environment where I can ensure optimum hand hygiene to insert and remove my earplugs? Will my earmuffs interfere with other PPE? How consistent is the noise I am protecting myself from?
After asking yourself these questions and using the information above you should be able to make the best decision for you and your scenario.