It’s 3 a.m. and you’re lying awake, surprised that the neighbors haven’t called to complain about your partner’s snoring. Maybe you work in construction and need to protect your ear drums. Is swimming and showering a challenge because you can’t get water in your ears? Or are you a frequent concert-goer, acutely aware that frequent exposure to concert-level sound intensity can wreak havoc on your ear drums?
Whatever the reason you landed here, it’s likely because you realize earplugs are the solution! We know, there’s nothing magical about stuffing something in your ear, but earplugs are safe and effective. That said, there are different types of earplugs, and some are better for certain situations than others. Let’s discuss earplugs so you can make an informed decision about what to buy to solve your noise problem.
First, let’s review some common earplug terminology that you may run across in your research.
- Noise reduction rating (NNR): NNR is used to “rate” earplugs as to how effective they are in blocking sound. The average reduction of noise is measured in a laboratory setting under ideal circumstances. While this creates a good standard for consumers to compare different types and brands of earplugs, remember that your ears and your situation might be different than the laboratory settings. It’s always a good idea to check with your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns you may have.
- Decibel (dB): The unit of measurement used to determine noise blocking effectiveness. This is the measurement of the NRR rating. The decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that a noise at 20 dB is 10 times louder than a noise at 10 dB, and a noise at 100 dB is 1 billion times louder than a noise at 10 dB. Currently the highest NRR rating offered by an earplug is around 33 dB. We like this breakdown of decibels:
The higher the noise reduction rating (or NRR), the more sound blocked. For example, quiet speech is about 20 decibels, conversational speech is about 40 decibels, and an alarm clock is about 70 to 80 decibels. Most earplugs cover a range of 15 to 30 decibels.8
Uses for Earplugs
Ok, now that we have the terminology down pat, let’s talk about some applications where earplugs, such as Flents® Earplugs, might be used.
- Sleep. If you’re a light sleeper or snuggle up to a noisy partner, ear plugs might be essential to your nighttime routine. Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for health, not to mention mood and performance. A snoring partner (50 dB+)1 or the hum of a refrigerator (40 dB)4 can be very effective at keeping someone awake. Check out PROTECHSTM Sleep Ear Plugs which comes with a carrying case, ideal for travel. You may also consider the Flents® Super Sleep Kit which includes three silk sleep-masks ideal for afternoon naps or those who work second-shifts.
- Concentration. Whether you’re cramming for an exam or working on year-end reports, it’s easy to get distracted. Some people can work through ambient noise but others are more distracted by ticking watch (20 dB)4 or the hustle and bustle of the world (60 dB)4. Earplugs help diminish distractions and help you focus more on the task at hand.
- Concerts or loud work environments. If you’re a groupie and frequent concert goer, or work construction, chances are you’ve got a pair of earplugs handy at all times.
- Mowing the lawn or using power tools. If you’re a spectator for these activities, then you might not realize how loud a lawnmower or power tool can be (80 dB+)4. It’s important to protect your ears from exposure, especially if frequent or prolonged.
- Fireworks or at the gun range. Though they may be short, loud bursts of noise can be just as damaging to your ears as prolonged exposure. With decibel levels up to 150 dB at close range, fireworks can cause pain or injury to your ear drum4.
- Swimming. Normally it’s easy to get water out of your ears by but if you’re prone to ear infections or swimmers ear, earplugs are essential for when you’re in the water. Lots of people also wear them when showing.
Types of Earplugs
So now we know why someone might use earplugs, let’s look at the types of earplugs available for the variety of ear protection needs:
- Foam Earplugs. Foam earplugs are made from a spongy foam material. The foam material is rolled and then inserted into the ear canal where it expands to fit the specific contour of your ear canal. Though considered a low-tech solution, the expansion of this earplug in your ear means a custom and more secure fit. Foam earplugs are designed for a single user. All these features make foam earplugs the most common earplug on the market. One of the top-rated foam earplugs as rated in multiple reviews7,8,9,10 are the Flents Quiet Please Earplugs. The Flents Quiet Please Earplug is cylindrical in shape with flat ends, making them ideal for sleeping. Also their shape, as opposed to tapered alternatives, helps some people get a more secure fit. Foam earplugs are also touted as the best value earplug.
- Pre-Molded Earplugs. Usually made of silicone, these earplugs come shaped to fit inside your ear. Usually consisting of a few “layers” of flexible silicone discs, these earplugs are intended to create ear pockets which help block sound from getting to your eardrum. Pre-molded earplugs are reusable and often come with a carrying case. This variation of earplugs is more expensive, but the wearer should take into consideration the reusable nature of this option.
- Earmuffs. While these conjure up images of furry winter accessories, earmuffs is the formal term for ear protection worn over the ears. Earmuffs can be as simple as two ear cups connected by a headband. Many also have electronic components that allow wearers to communicate. To be effective, ears should be fully enclosed within the earmuff cups and create a proper seal around the ear.
- Canal Caps. Also called semi-inserts, canal caps are essentially pre-molded earplugs that are connected for easy access and can be worn around the users neck when not in use. The main advantage over loose pre-molded earplugs is convenience. This type of earplugs are generally not worn for sleep.
- Wax Earplugs. Wax earplugs are balls of wax that can be molded to fit inside the ear. Another name for wax earplugs is “ear puddy.” Wax earplugs are often used by swimmers and for protecting ear canals from water. Some wax earplugs are reusable, while some are not.
Aspects to consider when deciding what earplug is right for you:
- Comfort. Comfort is the most important aspect of your earplugs. Two components factor into earplug comfort: size and shape. If you know you have a small or large ear canal, make sure to consider the size of the earplug before buying. Reading reviews can provide insight, but foam earplugs provide the most flexibility in size because they expand to fit your specific ear size and shape. Shape is the second factor to consider. Again, foam earplugs provide the most customization for ear fit.
- Ease of use. How easy the earplugs are to use will be an important factor for people who use earplugs on the job or in situations where earplugs need to be inserted and removed frequently and easily.
- Longevity and durability. The decision between reusable and disposable earplugs depends on your needs. For sleeping, disposable earplugs might be preferred because their shape is more conducive to sleeping. On the other hand, investing in a good pair of earplugs that are going to last through extreme usage or conditions might be preferable.
There are many decisions to consider when choosing an earplug. Take the time to determine how your earplugs are going to be used, and also consider comfort, whether they need to be inserted and removed frequently throughout the day, and whether you need a durable and long-lasting earplug, or if a reusable earplug is suitable. Also take a look at the earplug decibel rating which will help you determine if the earplug provides enough noise-blocking benefit for how you intend to use them.
- Advanced Dental Sleep Treatment Center: How Loud is “Loud” Snoring https://www.whywesnore.com/how-loud-is-loud-snoring/
- Alpine Hearing Protection: Types of Hearing Protection https://www.alpinehearingprotection.com/wiki-2/types-of-hearing-protection/
- CDC: Choose the Hearing Protection That’s Right for You https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/choose.html
- CDC: What Noises Cause Hearing Loss https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
- Cooper Safety: IOSH Factsheet on Earplugs https://www.coopersafety.com/ear-plug-types
- Cooper Safety: Picking the Right Earplug https://www.coopersafety.com/ear-plug-types
- Healthline: The Best Earplugs for Sleeping https://www.healthline.com/health/best-earplugs-for-sleeping
- NY Times: The Best Earplugs for Sleeping https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-earplugs-for-sleeping/#the-competition
- Travel & Leisure: The 9 Best Earplugs for Sleep, Travel, and More https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/yoga-wellness/best-earplugs-for-sleeping
- Verywell Health: The 7 Best Earplugs for Sleeping of 2020 https://www.verywellhealth.com/best-earplugs-4582938