Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Excellent Protection, Hard On The Ears With Prolonged Use, Laser Lite Earplugs: A Mixed Blessing.

The Good: Relatively inexpensive, Disposable, Effective, One size fits all.
The Bad: Prolonged use may damage the ear canal.
The Basics: Despite being generally good at what they promise, the Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs have a rather nasty side effect that makes them less useful for long-term hearing protection.

A few days ago, I found myself contemplating hearing protection as I scoured the site for things I owned or used that I could review. I found the Dewalt Interceptor Earmuff Hearing Protection that I still had from my last job and I enthusiastically reviewed. In reviewing those, though, I alluded to other hearing protection I had used that had been overall less effective. As it turns out, the less effective hearing protection, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs were in the database as well and I now have the opportunity to review those as well!

Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs come in two essential variations: with a cord and without. The ones with a cord have a plastic wire attaching the earplugs to one another. This is for the earplugs without the cord. As a result, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are one-inch long cylindrical foam earplugs that are 3/8" in diameter at their base and about 3/4" wide at the end that sticks out of the ears. They are multicolored (pink and yellow) which makes them easy to see and they come in little plastic bags with two per bag. The 500 count box is a standard size at most businesses that have them and the dispenser box has two hundred fifty bags with the pairs of earplugs in them. The plastic bags have a perforation that makes them easy to open and remove the earplugs from them.

Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are exceptionally easy to use. Simply tear open the bag with the pair of earplugs and carefully remove them (one at a time would be recommended) from the bag. Press the smaller end with your fingers to compress the foam earplug and carefully insert into the ear canal. The earplug should have the thicker end - which is easily recognizable because the end flares out with two tapers - protruding from the ear canal. Holding that thicker end, allow the tapered end to expand to fill the ear canal. Repeat with the other earplug. The process of inserting the earplugs and waiting for them to expand takes less than a minute.

So inserted, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are remarkably effective at muting loud noises. Ambient sound above 35 decibels is muted, so loud factory noises become less pounding. Lower noises may still be heard, but things like metal impacting on metal (I worked in a plant making pipes for buses) lose the reverberations from ringing. In other words, these earplugs very effectively take the edge off loud sounds.

The problem with using these foam earplugs comes from prolonged use. Because the earplugs expand to fill the ear canal, they are pressed right up against the skin inside and the inside of the ear canal has tiny hairs. Removal and reinsertion of Laser Lite Earplugs over the course of several days may tear out those hairs and dry out the ear canal. The friction from pulling the earplugs out causes wear on the ear canal. Within two weeks of wearing two pairs of these a day and my ear canal had scabs inside. It was at that point that I went to wearing a single pair a day (not removing them during lunch) and even then, my ear canal did not heal up (instead, it just did not get any worse). That was when I had to go to earmuff style hearing protection.

The fundamental problem here is a design one. In order to make the Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs they have to be compressed before inserting them and then let them expand so they hold in place. Unless one has some form of freakish ears that allow them to compress the earplug again while inside the ear canal and then pull them out, they will always tear at the hairs and skin inside the ear canal when being removed. While initially this may not cause any problems for the user, prolonged usage involving pushing the earplugs in and taking them out essentially exfoliates the tender skin inside the ear and causes problems for the user.

Used occasionally, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs do exactly what they are supposed to do and may nicely protect one's ability to hear when in loud conditions (I still have some I wear to loud concerts in order to protect my hearing and these quite nicely allow me to hear music from live bands like Paramour without being deafened or getting a headache without losing any of the range of the performance), but they are best used as a temporary measure. Anyone who is considering getting a full box of these for personal use may want to consider a different style of hearing protection as the damage from these may be more than simply uncomfortable.

For other hearing protection or safety tools/devices, please check out my reviews of:
Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs with cords
Kidde 2 3/4 lb. Fire Extinguisher
Kidde Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Detector


For other health and safety reviews, please check out my index page here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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