The right earplugs can save your hearing,
reduce pain and help you sleep at night
modern world, noise is all around. Working with power tools, riding a
motorcycle or a snowmobile, firing a gun at a shooting range, or even listening
to loud music at concerts and clubs can expose you to noise levels high enough
to cause permanent hearing damage. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that as many as 24 percent
of adults aged 20 to 69 have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.
Fortunately, avoiding this problem can be as simple as donning an inexpensive
pair of earplugs.
Types of Earplugs
Earplugs for Noise Reduction
These small cylinders, made of materials like foam, plastic, silicone, or wax, are designed to protect your hearing in a noisy environment. Users rely on them for attending concerts, riding a motorcycle, or mowing the lawn. They 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 marriages by drowning out their mates' loud snoring.
Earplugs for Swimmers
Swimmers and surfers wear earplugs to keep water from getting into their ear canals, where it can cause bacterial or fungal infections known as "swimmer's ear." Earplugs for swimming can be reusable silicone plugs that "screw" into the ear canal or moldable balls of silicone or natural wax that form a seal over the outside of the ear. This type of earplug can also be useful for air travel, helping to relieve the discomfort caused by changes in air pressure.
Choosing earplugs for your needs
can be disposable, semi-reusable (meaning they should be thrown out after a few
uses), or entirely reusable. Disposable earplugs generally cost anywhere from
10 to 70 cents per pair, though the price typically goes down if you buy in
bulk. Reusable earplugs will set you back anywhere from $1 to $20 per pair,
with semi-reusable earplugs at the bottom of this range.
options include custom earplugs, which are molded specifically to the shape of
your ears, and electronic earplugs, which actually contain tiny microphones and
amplifiers to pick up ambient sound and automatically adjust the level that
gets transmitted to your ears. These types, which can cost anywhere from $25 to
$400, aren't covered in this report.
noise-blocking earplugs carry a noise reduction rating (NRR) -- a measure of
how many decibels (dB) sound is reduced when you're wearing them. Decibels are
logarithmic units used to measure sound, which means that every increase of 10
dB represents a tenfold increase in the sound volume. According to the NIDCD, a
whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is 60 dB, and an ambulance siren is
120 dB. Sounds over 120 dB are loud enough to cause pain, but any sound over 85
dB can cause hearing loss with prolonged exposure. The higher the NRR of your
earplugs, the better it can shield you from hearing damage.
NRR isn't the only factor to consider when choosing earplugs. Experts and users
agree that a good fit is just as important, because an earplug can't do its job
if it falls out, doesn't seal properly, or is so uncomfortable you can't wear
it. 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 brands
come in small sizes to provide a better fit for children and adults with
smaller ear canals.
addition to NRR and fit, you should consider how well the earplugs are suited
to the activity you have in mind. For instance, motorcycle enthusiasts need
earplugs that can fit well under their helmets, as well as dampen the sound of
wind and engine noise. Musicians require earplugs that attenuate sound across
all frequencies to preserve the quality of the music, while muting the
loudness. Swimmers and surfers need water-blocking earplugs, and frequent
flyers need earplugs that can regulate air pressure without interfering with
Finding The Best Earplugs
"Earplugs for Sleep: Reviews & Ratings"
"Efficacy of Commercial Earplugs in Preventing Water Intrusion During Swimming"
"An Objective Comparison of Leakage Between Commonly Used Earplugs"
extent, which earplugs are best for you depends on your personal needs and
preferences. However, everyone needs earplugs that can do a good job of muting
sound (or blocking water, if they're used for swimming), fit comfortably, and
provide good overall value. To find the best choices, we looked at professional
comparison tests, but such feedback is limited. We did spot a few helpful
reports, however, including one test of six earplug choices by LA Weekly. We
also looked at feedback at SleepLikeTheDead.com, a meta-review site that draws
in and consolidates user feedback posted across the web. We also consulted
available medical studies and personally analyzed hundreds of user reviews at
sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com to find the earplugs that are your best
bets for quiet and comfort.