How earplugs can help protect your hearing

Earplugs have an array of benefits. They improve focus, the quality of rest and most importantly, help protect your hearing. There is an overwhelming number of earplugs on the market today and each have their own way to be used. We have therefore prepared this guide that will explore materials, costs, usage, noise reduction, when to use them, how they work, insertion techniques and where the best models are available.

Fortunately, earplugs are widely available, easy to use and are a great solution to protecting your hearing in many situations. They are proven to aid ear health in the short and long term and also improve concentration, relaxation and increase your overall quality of life.

It’s no secret that there are dozens of varieties and types available on the market today: earplugs for snoring, earplugs for children and teens, noise-cancelling earplugs – the list goes on; and there are just as many factors to consider when choosing them (it can be a lot to sort through!). The main point to note however, is that whether you’re struggling to focus at home or at the office, surrounded by heavy machinery or vehicles, staying in unfamiliar hotels, or just in need of a good night’s rest amidst loud noise — earplugs can help.

Before you buy new earplugs, there are some things to understand. We’ve prepared a list of the most commonly asked questions about earplugs (and yes, we answer all of them):

What types of earplugs are there?

Types of earplugs vary pending purpose and material. Noise reduction earplugs are most common; specialised earplugs also block water, regulate pressure and filter different sound frequencies. There are also earplugs that can help with tinnitus.

Common materials used to make earplugs include foam, wax and silicone. Earplugs for noise could also be made of cotton, putty, ceramic and vinyl. Some are built with layered air pockets and membranes, as well as strings to remove them or keep them together (so one is not lost).

Here are the most common materials: 

  • Wax – natural, malleable and shapeable. Conforms easily and is water repellent, too.
  • Silicone – reusable and lightweight (most customised or fitted earplugs are silicone).
  • Foam – these soft earplugs are generally cheapest. They’re also disposable, because bacteria can breed so easily on them.

Other considerations are based on how the earplugs fit. Are they comfortable? If they’re too small, they could slide out; and if they’re too big, they could irritate your ears. Generally, the better the fit, the better the noise reduction and therefore, the better protected your ears are.

Some earplugs are also bell shaped or tapered, while others completely seal the entrance to the ear. These expand in different ways and also create pressure differently within your ear. Weights vary too, so you may need to experiment.

A final note: most earplugs are designed with bright colours, so that others can see you’re wearing them (and not wonder why you’re ignoring them).

How much do earplugs cost?

A wide range of prices are available, depending on the material and manufacturer. View our current product range and pricing here. 

Where are the best places to use earplugs?

Earplugs can help in a number of situations, some of which include: at concerts; in bars or clubs; in noisy households while studying for school; when working with or around heavy machinery; travelling on motorbikes or flying in planes; when sleeping and even in the water.

High angle portrait of happy mature woman wearing sleep mask while lying on bed

Sleep — lack of sleep is detrimental to health. Exhaustion affects your physical and mental state, your productivity and creativity, recovery and the immune system. Sleep can be disrupted by street noise, loved ones, roommates and more. Earplugs for sleeping reduce these noises, without eliminating sounds like alarm clocks. They also are designed for comfort in extended wear.

Focus — noise at home, at school and in the office can affect concentration, reduce productivity and create stress. Earplugs for these environments fade sound to less intrusive levels, without limiting conversations.

Music — earplugs for music are generally more technologically advanced. Concertgoers and musicians face the same challenge: protect their ears, without losing sound quality and things like timbre, treble and bass. Music earplugs commonly feature membranes which filter (attenuate) sound at varying frequencies (or pitches), instead of blocking it completely.

Travellers — motorbikes, loud watercraft and airplanes can all produce damaging levels of sound. Motorsport earplugs are often designed to be worn under helmets and to work in tandem with intercoms. Earplugs designed for airplanes will often protect the ears from cabin pressure fluctuations as well.

Water — pool chemicals and bacteria, ocean waves and cold wind can all impact and damage your ear canal, leading to swelling, itching and conditions like Swimmer’s or Surfer’s Ear. Majority of earplugs designed for swimming are designed primarily to keep water and wind out.

Machinery — construction sites, factories and farms are all home to loud and heavy machinery which can be damaging, so hearing protection earplugs are vital in these situations. But did you know that even gardening equipment and home improvement tools can also be troublesome, as they create excessive sound levels which can also be numbing. Earplugs for work are commonly ventilated and designed to be worn all day. 

How much do earplugs reduce noise?

Noise Reduction Rating (or NRR) is used to measure the effectiveness of a hearing protection device to reduce noise levels. Higher values indicate greater noise reduction. It is a standardised process and measured in decibels (dB). Anything below 80 dB is generally considered safe; soft noise is about 20 dB. A conversation on the street may be 40 dB, though a conversation in a noisy restaurant could hit 90 dB. A moderate snorer can be 50-60 dB, though it can easily rise to as high as 90 dB.

Concerts and heavy machinery all typically exceed 100 dB.

Most earplugs reduce sound by 10-30 dB. Common earplug protection levels include 15, 20 and 25 dB, although each plug will go about protection in different ways. Some are designed to reduce steady background noise, some mask all noise, while others filter sound. Some earplugs are also designed to protect against sharp bursts.

How many decibels do foam earplugs block?

Foam plugs typically block 20-30 dB of sound. 

Can earplugs damage ears?

There is little danger to using earplugs (they are ear defenders, after all). Irritation may occur if you are new to using them. If you use sleeping earplugs, you may wake up with sore ears depending on your sensitivity levels — especially if you sleep primarily on your side. Earplugs can potentially lead to wax build up and in some cases ear infections. Wax build up can happen as a consequence of your ear trying to protect itself from a foreign body in the canal and therefore pushing in earplugs can encourage a wax plug to form. If untreated, this could lead to temporary hearing loss which may exacerbate tinnitus.

Be sure to keep your earplugs clean and do not reuse disposable earplugs.

If you feel any pain in your ears, or if you experience any hearing loss, consult a hearing care professional immediately.

How should I insert earplugs?

While the process is simple, there are a few techniques which will improve comfort and your earplugs effectiveness.

First, make sure your hands are clean. Next, roll the earplugs between your fingers to compress them — like a snake or a cone. Once they’re thin enough to fit in your ear, pull your ear lobe away from your head. You should insert the earplugs just deep enough to block sound. Don’t wedge them in too deep – they should be comfortable.

After you insert the earplugs, use your opposite hand to pull on the top of your ear. This will straighten out your ear canal. Use your finger to hold the earplug in place until it expands. You will know the earplug is properly inserted and sealed when your own voice sounds muffled.

How to insert Phonak Serenity Choice™ earplugs – available now at Blamey Saunders

How many times can earplugs be used?

Check your earplug packaging for detailed information. The material used is the primary factor; silicone earplugs, for instance, are generally the most durable and the easiest to clean. Some eco-friendly earplugs can be used 100 times or more. Most foam earplugs, on the other hand, are designed to be disposable as bacteria builds up on them quite easily.

If the packaging indicates your earplugs can be reused, make sure you keep them clean. Rinse them with cold water after every use and gently apply a little soap.

 

Where can I buy earplugs?

If you’re wondering where to buy earplugs, Blamey Saunders has released a line of hearing protection designed to suit a variety of situations — from listening to music, enjoying a race trackside, working, or simply wanting a good nights rest. Visit Phonak Serenity Choice – Blamey Saunders

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