Hearing health – protect your hearing

Key points about protecting your hearing

  • Once your hearing is damaged, it might not be able to be reversed so it’s important to protect your ears from exposure to loud noises at home, in the work environment and while you’re socialising.
  • Think about others around you too, especially tamariki who won’t know how to protect their ears.
  • Read on for our key dos and don'ts of hearing care.
Young man holding right ear with pain or hearing problem
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The world we inhabit can be very loud and your ears are exposed to many sounds that can damage your hearing. Protecting your ears from loud noise and looking for ways to reduce it is one of the simplest things you can do to reduce your risk of hearing loss. Here are some ways to be nice to your ears (so they will be nice to you).

Remember to seek medical attention or advice if you have sudden hearing loss, have pain in your ear or experience ongoing ringing in your ears (tinnitus). 

Noise cancelling headphones can help remove any unwanted 'outside' noise, such as the sound of a train, plane, bus or the lawnmower. If you're using power tools regularly, you'll welcome the added ear and hearing protection. It's a good idea to store your ear protection near where you'll be exposed to noise, eg, the garden shed or workshop, or take them in your work bag.

In noisy workplaces such as workshops, factories, building sites or manufacturing plants, there are occupational safety and health guidelines around noise levels. In Aotearoa New Zealand, business owners have a duty to prevent harm to workers’ health. As well as loud noise, hearing damage can also occur from chemicals found in some paints, glues and thinners. Check with your employer that they have the right measures in place to protect your hearing. They can visit Worksafe(external link) for more information.

Construction worker wearing hard hat and ear protection

Image credit: Canva

This may seem obvious, but often people unknowingly set their headphone volume well above a safe level. Try not to listen to music through your headphones for more than an hour at a time, this will ensure your hearing has time to recover from noise exposure. Also be conscious of the fact you might be turning the volume of your music up to drown out your noisy environment. Noise cancelling headphones can also allow you to listen to your music at a safer level. While your music may not seem very loud, it might be much louder than you think, which can cause hearing damage.

Set headphone playback to a suitable max volume

Deeper within the setting of your phone or music player should be the option to set a maximum volume level. Even if you adjust the volume when listening, you won’t be able to exceed this pre-set max volume. This function is a good tool to use to ensure that you don’t damage your hearing by creeping above your set max volume level.

If you regularly go to concerts and experience your ears ringing, you’re likely causing permanent and irreversible hearing damage – especially if you’re standing right next to the speakers. If you’re a frequent concert-goer there are plenty of discreet looking earplugs available that you can use to turn down the volume. Often, this actually improves the music quality!

There is a reason that cotton bud boxes say ‘do not insert into your ear’. Attempting to clean your ears with cotton buds usually results in you pushing the ear wax back down your ear canal, causing the earwax to build up. This may cause infection and limit your hearing ability. Your ear wax is meant to be there. It exists to reduce the number of contaminants flowing through your ear canal. Occasionally it will leak out the canal of your ear, becoming visible. You should gently clean the small unsightly amount of wax with a wet cloth. Or, there are specialist ear and hearing clinics that can safely and gently suction the wax from your ears.

The effectiveness of ear candles is a total myth. Often ear candles will cause more harm than good. Ear candles can be extremely risky, mainly because you’re suspending a burning candle above your head, and also because if your ear is facing upwards there’s a risk of contaminants and wax flowing back down your ear canal.

If you’re a frequent swimmer, you should definitely consider using earplugs to prevent too much water from entering your ear. As a one off, swimming without earplugs is fine, but if you’re doing it often, ‘swimmer’s ear’ becomes a real risk. This is caused by water sitting in your ear canal causing irritation and infection. Read more about infections of the outer ear (otitis externa).

Swimming in dirty water (creeks, dams, rivers, lakes etc.) will expose your ears to bacteria and parasites that may be living in the water. If you do want to swim in these bodies of water, try not to let your head go below the surface, especially if the water seems particularly dirty.

Some rivers and lakes in Aotearoa New Zealand have warnings or 'no swim' signs, so make sure you heed them. Land Air Water Aotearoa have a website where you can check the latest water and swim quality information in your area(external link), before you go.

The change in air pressure when taking off or landing can cause many ear problems such as pain, bleeding or even perforation of your ear drum which can lead to permanent damage. To prevent discomfort, chew, swallow or yawn to try and equalise your sinus pressures. Often it is easily resolved by chewing on a lolly or chewing gum (preferably sugar free).

Many of the same rules of protecting your adult hearing apply to children / tamariki as well. The best way to protect your child's hearing is to avoid loud sounds and noisy activities. If loud noise can't be avoided, have your family wear earmuffs or earplugs.

Here are some places and activities that might damage your child's (and your) hearing:

  • Loud movies, speedway or car racetracks, sports events (eg, rugby games), fireworks shows and big music concerts.
  • Riding a dirt bike, motorbike or farm vehicle like a tractor or harvester.
  • Watching or participating in wood chopping at a country show.
  • Participating in some sports like target shooting or skeet shooting. A gunshot can damage your child's hearing for life.
  • Noisy activities or games like paintball.
Formula One cars at speedway

Image credit: Canva

Just as you would teach your child to wear sunscreen and a hat outdoors, or buckle them safely into the car with a seatbelt, you can teach them how and when to wear hearing protection.

Remember, if they see you doing it, it makes it easier for them to follow your example. 

There are many ways to protect your hearing and most kinds of hearing protectors are also available in smaller (kids) sizes. Making sure it's the right size and fits comfortably is a good way to ensure it gets worn.

Not all hearing protectors will provide you the same amount of protection or block all sounds.


These come in disposable or reusable, and fit right into the ear canal. There are several different types:

  • Foam earplugs, like the disposable sort you might see given out by some airlines. These don't cost much and once inserted, expand to form a snug fit in the eat canal.
  • Pre-molded earplugs made from silicone or plastic. One type is the high-fidelity reusable earplug which allows you to lower the volume of your environment to a safer and more comfortable level – eg, at a concert or show – while still letting you hear everything around you clearly. 


Earmuffs cover both ears completely and come in sizes that fit most people. They are generally easier than earplugs for tamariki to wear and keep on. A combination of earplugs and earmuffs might offer excellent hearing protection in noisy environments.

Small girl wearing headphones for ear protection


Image credit: Canva

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Credits: Bay Audiology & Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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