The right earplugs can save your hearing, reduce pain and help you sleep at night
Exposure to high-decibel sounds in industrial work settings, shooting ranges, loud music venues, or working with or riding motorcycles can irreparably damage hearing. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 12.5 percent of children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 19 years old, and 17 percent of adults between 20 and 69 years old -- more than 31 million people in total -- have suffered permanent damage to their hearing as a result of excessive exposure to noise.
The solution can be as simple as donning earplugs -- small cylinders made of materials like foam, plastic and sometimes silicone or wax -- during your exposure to said noise. Earplugs also come in handy for blocking out general noise from traffic or neighbors, so you can sleep or study; a few reviewers even quip that earplugs have saved their marriage by drowning out their mate's loud snoring.
What to look for in an earplug depends upon why you're using them. To mute loud sounds, look for a high noise reduction rating (NRR). Motorcycle enthusiasts need earplugs that can dampen the sound of wind and engine noise, and fit well under their helmets. Musicians use earplugs that attenuate sound across all frequencies to preserve the sound of the music, while muting the loudness. Swimmers and surfers need earplugs that protect their ear canals from water and cold, and frequent flyers should find an earplug that can regulate air pressure without interfering with overhead announcements.
Experts and users agree that a good fit is as important as an earplug's NRR because if an earplug falls out, doesn't fit properly or is uncomfortable, it can't do its job. Most earplugs are one size fits all -- and sized for men -- so it's important to try a variety to find which one works best for you. Some come in small sizes to provide a better fit for children and adults with smaller ear canals.
Earplugs can be disposable, semireusable (meaning they should be thrown out after a few uses) or entirely reusable. Disposable earplugs generally cost from 10 to 40 cents per pair, though the price usually goes down with higher quantities. Reusable earplugs will set you back anywhere from $2 to $20 per pair, with semireusable earplugs at the bottom of this range. If you're looking at buying custom-made earplugs, be prepared to spend up to $200.
To determine our best reviewed earplugs, we analyzed available medical studies and evaluated hundreds of expert and user reviews. Our criteria were performance (how well does it mute sound?), comfort and fit, and overall value.