What is Attenuation?

..and what do earplug classes and ratings mean?

In Plain English, it’s simply the amount of sound that you are reducing. Say you’re in an 85dB environment. A 15dB rated earplug means that 15dB of sound entering your ear canal will be absorbed by the earplug. This brings your environment down to 70dB where it won’t cause permanent hearing loss

Another way of classifying attenuation when purchasing hearing protection is known as earplug class rating. Class 1 hearing protection offers anywhere between 10-13 dB of attenuation, while Class 5 attenuates 26 – 36dB of sound. 

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It’s important to remember NOT to reach for maximum attenuation for every situation. Your hearing is vital to your balance and alerting functions, so blocking out too much sound can cause anxiety and stress. Too much hearing protection also isolates you from your environment and leads to social isolation, depression and an inability to communicate - the same problems that hearing impairment cause

So what attenuation levels should you aim for?

The Australian Standards (AS/NZS 1270:2002) gives a quick cheat sheet on what hearing protection you should use based on your environmental sound. So whip out your phone, measure your environmental sound, and choose an attenuation that gets your noise exposure to fall between 65dB to 80dB. If you’re too lazy to do subtraction, here’s a cheat sheet for you:

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Different earplug classes, their attenuation levels, and what environment you should us it in

Earplugs sometimes also have multiple numbers on the front and back of their packaging. This can be confusing. Put simply, these are different ratings from different standards, used to describe the effectiveness of the hearing protection.

  • The NRR (noise reduction rating) as a clinical evaluation theoretically provides an estimate of the protection of a given device. The reasons for rating each hearing protector involve OSHA and EPA requirements for product safety and reliability. The rating enables the end user to assess the product 's attenuation abilities for noise in their own given work environment.

  • The SNR (single number rating) is the system within the European Union to indicate the amount of protection offered by a correctly fitted hearing protection device.

  • The HML (high, medium, low) rating is useful when you know that noise is being emitted at a certain bandwidth of frequencies, and allows you to choose earplugs that combat i.e. specifically mid frequencies. 

White Cat Earplugs try to keep it simple, providing an average attenuation level of the filter. Check out the attenuation graphs that come with each of the earplugs to see how each earplug attenuates at different frequencies, or talk to us if you're uncertain about what earplugs to choose from. We're happy to help!

Keep Learning

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Next Topic: Sound Health

How can sound hurt you? When is it dangerous?

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What do New Zealand laws say about noise?

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Protect your ears from Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL)

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Take control. Protect your mental and physical health.