If your hearing is damaged by excess noise, it is permanent, nothing can restore it. So, it makes sense to protect your ears…
When we’re on the lookout for new gear we naturally get excited when we think about full face, or an altimeter which can track you being a ninja and doubles up as a bottle opener; but very rarely do we discuss our ears when we’re talking about safety in skydiving.
Saying that, I recently posted a video discussing what I use for hearing protection, and the response that it has received has been great, showing that it is something that the Skyfam are keen on understanding better.
Our ears take a lot of abuse over the course of a normal day, never mind when it comes to jumping. The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (2005) are the European guidelines on loudness safety and they use 85dB as a cut off when it comes to protecting the ears. In simple terms, our ears can technically be exposed to 85dB for a maximum of 8 hours a day before hearing protection needs to be worn to prevent damage.
The back of a Cessna Caravan on the way to altitude can easily reach volumes of 105dB, and studies have shown that wind noise in motorcycle helmets can reach levels up to 112 dB when travelling at 100mph (Penman and Epstein), never mind the speeds of up to 180 mph that we’ll reach when in freefall. These intensities of sounds aren’t an issue if they come in very small doses; however, with a ride up to altitude sometimes taking to 25 minutes or more, it’s the combination of the intensity of the sound plus the duration time that is going to potentially cause irreparable damage to our ears.
Sound itself is measured using a compressed scale, and every 3dB is technically a doubling of energy. In practical terms this means that for a 3dB increase in sound the dangerous exposure time is halved. This means that after about 7 minutes of being nestled in the sweaty crotch of one of your pals on the way to altitude without any hearing protection, you’ve already used up your ‘daily noise allowance,’ and anything on top of that is going to potentially cause a permanent hearing loss.
Decibel Level Examples
- 10 – Faintest sound heard by human ear
- 30 – Whisper, quiet library
- 60 – Normal conversation, sewing machine
- 90 – Lawnmower, shop tools, truck traffic
- 100 – Chainsaw, drill, snowmobile, wind tunnel
- 115 – Sandblasting, loud rock concert, truck horn
- 140 – Gun muzzle blast, jet engine
Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)
If you’ve ever experienced a drop in hearing and ringing in the ears after a night out or mad day of jumping that’s called a temporary threshold shift. Ears are hardy things and can take anything from 24 hours to a full week to recover depending on the duration and volume of the exposure. The problem comes when this exposure is repeated over and over again, and that’s when it can become permanent.
The kind of hearing loss that one would develop is deceiving too; it’s not a case of not being able to hear anything at all, however you would lose some of the subtleties in speech, meaning that you’ll be missing the clarity or detail. Coupled with hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), is also a potential side effect of a noise induced hearing loss. Having suffered with tinnitus all of my life from partying too hard in my younger years, I can tell you that if there’s a way of avoiding it I would take it in a heartbeat.
Anything is better than nothing. There is no harm in taking the ear plugs that you’ve used in the tunnel and wearing those in the plane. If there is any packaging read the small print as there are different levels of attenuation. I personally use custom made earplugs with 20dB attenuation filters. The filters are interchangeable and can range from 10dB to 27dB depending on the sound that you want to come through. I’ve experimented with a few and found that 20dB allows me to still hear people speaking on the way up to altitude, however reduces the drone of the plane; and I actually find it easier to hear people speaking with them in then when wearing nothing at all. I can still comfortably hear my audible on the way down, and haven’t suffered with any pressure related issues due to a venting system built into the filter.
If you’re interested in custom-made hearing protection look for a local independent audiology practice. They’ll take an impression of your ear, so when your hearing protection is made it should be nice and comfortable when you’re wearing a helmet. Make sure that you look after your ears, you only have one set. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them on the video and I’ll get back to you.
Enjoy your passion, save your ears!
Image from Viljandi airfield in Estonia, Vaike & Ayra Õiglane, by Eva Lovi
Video Hearing Protection for Skydivers
You can contact Matthew via the Author Box below, or at his website HarleyStHearing