If you spend a lot of time in the water, waterproof earplugs can help you avoid the discomfort of water trapped in your ear canal or, worse, "swimmer's ear" -- an infection that's often caused by water lingering in your ears. Earplugs can also help prevent a more serious condition called "surfer's ear," abnormal bone growth in the ear canal caused by irritation from cold wind and water.
Waterproof earplugs are usually made of silicone and come in three types: moldable, pre-molded, and custom molded. Moldable earplugs form a seal over the outer ear opening, whereas custom- and pre-molded earplugs sit inside the ear canal. Custom-molded earplugs can cost well over $100 and are usually purchased from a professional laboratory, based on a mold of your ear canal done either in an audiologist's office or at home, using a kit.
Mack's is the clear top choice among swimmers for both moldable and pre-molded water-blocking earplugs. In a couple of clinical trials, Mack's Pillow Soft (Est. $4 for 6 pairs) silicone earplugs were the best at keeping water out of the ear. They're also one of the top-rated brands at retail sites, including SwimOutlet.com, which specializes in swimwear and underwater gear.
Users agree that these moldable silicone earplugs are particularly comfortable because they fit over your ear canal like a cover, rather than inside it. However, some users find it tricky to apply them so that they form a water-tight seal. A couple of users say that it helps to make sure your ears are completely dry before you apply the plugs. The earplugs can be used five or six times before they need to be discarded. Along with their water-blocking abilities, Mack's Pillow Soft earplugs have a noise reduction rating (NRR) of 22 decibels, which some reviewers say is enough for ignoring a spouse's snoring or for sleeping on an airplane.
Many users at Amazon.com say that they like to adjust the size of these moldable silicone earplugs, either tearing them in half to fit a smaller ear or tearing off a piece and molding it onto a larger plug to fit a larger ear. However, Mack's recommends against doing this, warning that breaking the earplugs into smaller pieces can cause them to get stuck inside the ear canal. For children under six, Mack's recommends using its smaller Kid Size Silicone Earplugs (Est. $5 for 6 pairs) instead.
The Mack's AquaBlock (Est. $6 for 2 pairs) is another popular option. These reusable, pre-molded silicone rubber earplugs are made specifically for blocking water, so they don't have a noise reduction rating. This makes them suitable for water sports such as surfing and kayaking, where you need protection from the elements but still need to be able to hear well.
Reviewers like the AquaBlock earplugs' triple-flanged design for blocking water. They say these earplugs fit comfortably while forming a good seal, and they stay put during swimming. However, several users note that they had trouble getting the hang of inserting them. Mack's AquaBlock earplugs also aren't as versatile as the Pillow Soft earplugs. They're too large for children to use, and because they sit inside the ear canal, they aren't safe for anyone with ear tubes or anyone who has had recent ear surgery.
A final Mack's product that many users like is Mack's Ear Seals (Est. $11 for 3 pairs). These reusable molded earplugs block out both water and noise, with an NRR of 27 dB. They have a flanged design similar to the AquaBlock earplugs, but they're made of molded plastic rather than silicone. Users at Amazon.com say this shape provides a good fit for ears of all types — large, small, and oddly shaped. Users agree that the earplugs do a good job keeping out water and fit comfortably— better than foam earplugs, according to many users. Most owners also find them easy to insert and remove. Users' main quibble with them is that they stick out too far, making them uncomfortable for sleeping.