I remember the battles with my teenage son. He was heading to a loud dance party but was worried about wearing earplugs. He knows better than most of his peers how difficult hearing loss can be and how important it is to protect the hearing he has because I have hearing loss. Even so, he resisted wearing them. “My friends won’t be wearing them,” he complained, “they won’t get it. It’s just not cool to wear earplugs.” Despite his complaining, he chose to wear the earplugs, and off he went to the loud dance party.
Like he imagined, he got lots of questions about his earplugs from his friends who were not used to seeing things in his ears. He showed them how loud the music was playing using a decibel reader app on his phone and explained that he wanted to protect his hearing.
What he didn’t expect was that his friends would want to wear them too! The music was so loud it was painful. Luckily he had brought some extra pairs so he could share them with his friends. Wearing earplugs had turned out to be cool after all!
While this story has a happy ending, the perception that wearing earplugs is not cool is a big problem, especially in today’s noisy world. The rule of thumb is that prolonged exposure to any sound at or above 85 decibels (dB) can cause gradual hearing loss. This is the level of heavy city traffic or a school cafeteria. At 100 dB, the level of a rock concert or loud sporting event, damage can occur after one minute! Click here for a useful Noise Navigator chart which displays safe listening duration times at various decibel levels.
Summer activities are no exception. According to It’s A Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health, firecrackers and fireworks can reach 140-160 dB. If a firecracker goes off next to your ear, permanent hearing damage is likely.
How can we make wearing earplugs cool?
1. Encourage influential role models to speak out.
More musicians are wearing earplugs and touting the benefits of wearing them publicly. This includes alternative rock musicians like Chris Martin of Coldplay and classic rock icons like Eric Clapton. At a recent Adele concert, she went out of her way to compliment the children in the audience who were wearing earmuffs for hearing protection. This type of positive feedback from people with influence will help lower stigma and build awareness.
2. Dress them up rather than down.
While my son was looking for the most discreet earplug options – small and inside the ear – the opposite idea could also be fun. For example, some companies sell customizable earplug attachments that help you personalize your earplugs. Decorations include blinged-out jewels, rainbows and flowers. The American flag versions would be perfect for summer BBQs.
3. Educate children early about the importance of hearing protection.
Hearing loss is not well understood and is often not taken seriously. This needs to change. Educational programs in schools and through pediatrician offices would help educate parents and children about the importance of hearing protection. Healthy habits start early so the sooner children are exposed to this information the better. By the time they are teenagers, peer pressure and stigma become harder to overcome. It’s A Noisy Planet features a detailed teacher toolkit on its website which makes it easy for any educator to access and implement a hearing protection curriculum. Please share this link with your local school.
4. Try them, and you will be sold.
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. The same can be said for trying a pair of earplugs at your next concert or sporting event. Like with my son’s friends at the loud dance party, once people try them, they are hooked. Perhaps sports stadiums could distribute themed earplugs to season ticket holders to promote usage. Backup pairs could be sold in the stores. The same goes for concert venues.
5. Bring extras to share so people can see the benefits.
When you wear earplugs, carry extra pairs to share with others. Peer pressure can work in the positive direction in this case and, like with my son, your friends will be grateful.
Editor’s note: If you already suspect you have hearing loss, it’s not too late to preserve the hearing you have left and minimize the damage. Visit a hearing clinic in our directory of consumer-reviewed professionals to get a baseline test and find solutions to treat your hearing loss.