Black woman with curly hair covering ears with her hands, over a green background

My Top 7 Ear Protection Favorites for Sound Sensitivity

I’ve had a few folks reach out and ask me what kind of ear protection I prefer, so I thought I’d write a blog about it.

My relationship with sound is complicated. Certain high pitched sounds actually cause me pain. Any sound disrupts my concentration, but long periods of exposure to any sound, or short periods of exposure to very loud or complex sounds can be so disconcerting that I lose the ability to think and speak.

I like to preserve my ability to think, so I’ve experimented with lots of products to find the best one to help me navigate different auditory scenarios.

These are my top picks.

1. For light protection I like Etymotics brand High Fidelity Earplugs ER 20XS. They lower sound by about 20 decibels, which I find to be a perfect reduction in environments such as parks or retail environments without music. The clear, rounded stem peeks out subtly, so not a lot of attention is drawn to the ear.

2. For medium protection I like Radians Custom Molded Earplugs. They have a 26 dB noise reduction rating (NRR). The silicone plugs mold to fit your ear. Because of the custom molding, I’ve found them to be among the most comfortable plugs I’ve used. I wear them in the shower on days when I’m particularly sensitive, or when I’m traveling and need to block out the sound of a fan in a hotel bathroom that comes on automatically with the light.

3. For heavier protection, I reach for Mack’s Dreamgirl soft foam earplugs. They help block the sound of low volume music or urban traffic noise. I can’t imagine sleeping without them. They have a hefty 30 dB NRR but don’t sacrifice comfort like bulkier plugs in the same NRR range. If your ear canal is larger, you may want to opt for a different Mack’s model.

I’ve tried my share of earmuffs too and the brand I’m happiest with is 3M. Their Peltor series muffs offer comfortable protection for a range of auditory situations.

I’m no longer self-conscious about protecting my senses. I consider wearing hearing protection in public to be analogous to using a mobility aid. I can’t really get around well without it, so it isn’t really anything to be ashamed of.

4. With a NRR of 21 dB, I like the 3M Optime 95 for short duration or less demanding sensory challenges. I keep a pair on hand in my car for the times I’m stuck at a stoplight next to a kid with a booming radio or when a fire truck or ambulance races past me.

5. When the volume goes up, I reach for my 24 dB NRR muffs. Worn over the Mack’s Dreamgirl plugs, these can get me past a whistling locomotive with minimal disruption to my train of thought.

6. If you find that your town has been invaded by a motorcycle rally, then it’s time to grab a pair of 3M Peltor X5A muffs. With a noise reduction rating of 31 dB, they’re the most powerful muffs in my collection. They are a bit heavy, but are still comfortable enough to wear for a few hours at a time.

The customer service team at 3M is top-notch too. I had a less than fun encounter with the TSA staff at my local airport when I attempted to wear my yellow 24 dB muffs though security. I explained they were a medical device and the TSA screener requested I remove them and run my hands over them before returning them to my head. I complied, and my hands were swabbed for explosives. My eyes sure got wide when I saw the screen flash detected. Seconds later I was pulled aside for a private pat down. Once I demonstrated I was not in possession of anything threatening, I was allowed to board, but the incident worried me. I emailed 3M to find out what had caused the alert.

I received the following reply explaining the reason for the event.

“Our Peltor Earmuffs are manufactured in a facility with many different 3M products and we can confirm that there are not any explosives manufactured in that location. I did find some information that indicates that the TSA’s reader flags glycerin as a component in explosives.  Our earmuffs are filled with glycerin to create the comfort fit around the ears, the glycerin is non-hazardous but is a chemical building block of some explosives.  Please let me know if you have any additional questions or concerns.”

I thought 3Ms commitment to seeking out an answer to my rather unusual question about their product was pretty amazing.

7. The most awesome piece of equipment in my repertoire of anti-auditory assault tools are my Bose QuietComfort 20. If you can fit them into your budget, they’re worth every penny. I can get past screaming toddlers at Target with my Bose plugged into red noise from the White Noise Ambience by logicworks app. Even if you aren’t comfortable masking sound with sound, the earbuds bring the sounds around you down a notch if you just plug them into your phone and turn them on. In the on position, the noise cancelling is activated and the sound around you becomes dimmer.

I commend Bose on top notch customer service too. The noise cancelling button on my first pair stopped working after I’d had them for about 8 months. Getting a replacement under warranty was a rather painless process. I only had to pay shipping for my replacement.

The Bose QuietComfort earbuds are specific to Apple or android products, so make sure to get the right ones for your device.

Finding the right protection for you may be a trial and error process. I encourage you to keep trying until you find the products that are most suitable for you. Living with hyperacusis or other sound sensitivities can be very isolating, so finding the right hearing protection can be incredibly liberating. There is joy in being able to do something as simple as shop in a grocery store after finding the right protection against the music and the sounds of other shoppers.

As a caveat, I’ve spoken with some audiologists who warn against overprotecting the ears. There’s a theory among them that overprotection prompts the auditory system to try harder to detect sounds, making hyperacusis more severe in the long run. I can’t speak to the validity of that theory, but I urge you to speak to the professionals in your life and do your own research to determine the level of protection that is appropriate for your situation.

Blocking out sound keeps my confusion at bay and enhances my productivity, so it’s a choice I make. I do try to spend time without any protection, but I’m never able to focus and accomplish anything I consider worthwhile when my ears are exposed to the sounds around me.

Best wishes on your journey to finding the perfect ear protection!

Share your thoughts. What kinds of ear protection work for you, and how often do you use ear protection?

Disclosure: I do participate in the Amazon Associates program so purchases made through the Amazon links in my posts can earn me a small percentage of the purchase price, without adding anything to your cost for a product.

Hands of person in white doctor's coat shown typing into a computer keyboard.

What Your Records Say Can Hurt You

Do you have inaccurate or outdated information in your medical records?

Errors, misdiagnoses, and former diagnoses in your records can have far reaching consequences on your health and well being.

Right now in the United States, only some health care professionals have access to your medical records. One provision of the Affordable Care Act was to require that any health system that accepts coverage such as Medicare and Medicaid transition to the use of electronic medical records.

Typically if you see a doctor at one health care system, only providers in that system will be able to see your records, unless you voluntarily share them outside of that system. If Pleasant County Health System has your records, all providers associated with Pleasant County can see your records, though they should only be looking if they have good reason. If you share records from Pleasant County Health System with a doctor who works in Happy Basin Health System, all of Happy Basin’s staff will have access to your records.

But in the future this will change. The goal in health care information technology is something called interoperability, which means your records from any health system will be visible at any other place you seek treatment. Explore the US government’s Interoperability Roadmap here. Eventually interoperability will exist worldwide.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Yes…well, ideally it is.

If all of your records are accurate, this sharing helps make sure the care you get at any facility takes into consideration all the conditions you have. If the new doctor you are visiting while in another town needs to see the lab results or an allergy list from your primary care provider, she can see them. That goes a long way to prevent retesting and guesswork, especially in an emergency situation.

But if your records contain errors, the opposite can happen.

Say your medical record from Pleasant County Health reports that you have bipolar disorder. You may not actually have bipolar disorder, but you once saw a psychiatrist (doctor #1) at Pleasant County who thought you did. Doctor #1 put bipolar disorder in your medical records. When you see doctor #2 at Pleasant County for fatigue, weakness and muscle aches Dr. #2 may be short on time or competence and assume your fatigue, weakness and muscle aches must be associated with a depressive episode from your bipolar disorder. Dr. #2 may miss a problem with your thyroid in part because of Dr. #1’s diagnostic error. We all hope that doctors like # 2 don’t fall prey to bias, but hope won’t get you good health care.

Does this really happen? Unfortunately, yes. Here’s a piece from the New York Times about something called diagnostic overshadowing. Diagnostic overshadowing is the term used for when a patient’s coexisting condition is believed to result from their mental status, and a thorough investigation into the coexisting condition isn’t made because of the assumption that patient’s problem is psychiatric, rather than physical.

Uh oh. What can I do?

You can write to the facility that holds your records and ask to have them changed or amended. Provide as much evidence as you can to support your case. The facility must review your request and respond.

In the United States, the department of Health and Human Services oversees administration of HIPAA law, which governs the handling of your medical records. If you see an error in your records; the law provides for you request an amendment to your health record or information. Below is a part of the statute that governs amendments to health records.

Visit the Health and Human Services website for more information. The information below is from that source.

§ 164.526 Amendment of protected health information.

(a) Standard: Right to amend.

(1) Right to amend. An individual has the right to have a covered entity amend protected health information or a record about the individual in a designated record set for as long as the protected health information is maintained in the designated record set.

(2) Denial of amendment. A covered entity may deny an individual’s request for amendment, if it determines that the protected health information or record that is the subject of the request:

(i) Was not created by the covered entity, unless the individual provides a reasonable basis to believe that the originator of protected health information is no longer available to act on the requested amendment;

(ii) Is not part of the designated record set;

(iii) Would not be available for inspection under§ 164.524; or

(iv) Is accurate and complete.

(b) Implementation specifications: Requests for amendment and timely action.

(1) Individual’s request for amendment. The covered entity must permit an individual to request that the covered entity amend the protected health information maintained in the designated record set. The covered entity may require individuals to make requests for amendment in writing and to provide a reason to support a requested amendment, provided that it informs individuals in advance of such requirements.

(2) Timely action by the covered entity.

(i) The covered entity must act on the individual’s request for an amendment no later than 60 days after receipt of such a request, as follows.

(A) If the covered entity grants the requested amendment, in whole or in part, it must take the actions required by paragraphs (c)(1) and (2) of this section.

(B) If the covered entity denies the requested amendment, in whole or in part, it must provide the individual with a written denial, in accordance with paragraph (d)(1) of this section.

(ii) If the covered entity is unable to act on the amendment within the time required by paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section, the covered entity may extend the time for such action by no more than 30 days, provided that:

(A) The covered entity, within the time limit set by paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section, provides the individual with a written statement of the reasons for the delay and the date by which the covered entity will complete its action on the request; and

(B) The covered entity may have only one such extension of time for action on a request for an amendment.

So find out what’s in your medical records and request to have corrections made if you find errors. You can get your records by requesting them from the provider’s office or sometimes from a medical records department affiliated with your provider’s office. In many cases, records are available online through patient portals.