Our ears are an important part of how most of us experience the world. From communicating with others, to hearing news and important information, to enjoying music or other audible forms of entertainment like theater or comedy, to basking in the more subtle sounds of nature, our ears – and through them, our ability to hear – are worth protecting.
The good news is that taking care of your ears is relatively easy, especially for how important they are. The health of your ears depends on practicing proper ear hygiene (making sure not to use anything smaller than a washcloth on your finger to clean your ears), safeguarding against loud and damaging noises, and preventing infection or illness caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi in the ears. When it comes to your ears, the best way to protect them is to prevent the most common culprits of injury or illness. Perhaps the best way to do this is by using ear plugs.
When to use ear plugs
There are many reasons you might want to consider using ear plugs. We’ve previously covered many of the sound-related reasons to use ear plugs and how important it is to protect your hearing when in noisy settings such as while at sporting events or around common sounds such as lawnmowers. You can also use ear plugs to block out safe but unwanted sound for improved sleep or focus, which impacts your general health more than your ear health.
Travel-specific ear plugs can also offer relief from “airplane ear” when flying by reducing stress on your eardrum from the imbalance of pressure between your middle ear and the air in the plane’s cabin, particularly during take-off.
Sound and pressure may be some of the more common causes of injury when it comes to your hearing, but they aren’t the only possible detriments to your ear health. Your ears can also be affected by illness or infection, which can impact both your hearing and your general health and well-being. Because of your ears’ location on your head and the shape of your ear canals, ears are especially susceptible to holding water. Undrained moisture can lead to an outer-ear infection called otitis externa, or “swimmer’s ear,” as the trapped water can facilitate bacterial growth. Swimmer’s ear is characterized by swelling, redness, heat, pain or discomfort, discharge, itching, and muffled hearing. Some severe cases can lead to more severe pain that extends to the face, head, or neck, fever, or swollen lymph nodes and require immediate medical treatment.
The potential for swimmer’s ear and its unpleasant symptoms and side effects is why you might want to consider wearing ear plugs when you’ll be in prolonged contact with water.
Ear plugs for swim
The best way to prevent infection-causing bacterial growth in your ears is to prevent excess water from entering the ear canals in the first place using ear plugs designed to block moisture. The most obvious setting where this would be beneficial would be while swimming or playing other water sports, but if you’re especially sensitive to water in your ears, it might also be helpful to use ear plugs when showering or bathing, washing your hair, or spending time outside in the heat and humidity, where sweat can make its way into your ears.
Outer ear infections are fairly common in adults, but children are generally more likely to get them or other forms of ear infections. Because of their sensitivity to ear infections, it’s typically recommended that kids with recent middle or outer ear infections, ear tubes, or a history of ear infections wear ear plugs whenever swimming or spending time in the water.
When it comes to protecting your ears against water, look for silicone ear plugs – such as Protechs Silicone Ear Plugs for Swim – to do the job.
Why silicone ear plugs?
Once you’ve decided to use ear plugs to protect your ears from water, you need to decide which ones to use. You may be surprised to learn there are numerous options available, and not every ear plug is best suited for every situation.
- While standard conical ear plugs do block out water in addition to sound and are relatively inexpensive and easy to find, they may lose suction in water, rendering them unhelpful in preventing swimmer’s ear. You might also find that these one-size-fits-all, expandable foam ear plugs might not fully block the ear canal, and some water might still get through. If you do opt for this route, just be sure to thoroughly dry your ears after getting out of the water.
- Conversely, you could request custom-fit ear plugs from your doctor or audiologist, which would ensure you have the right ear plugs for your needs and that the fit is secure. However, these tend to be more expensive and may be inconvenient to replace. They might also be a little harder to secure in your ears, as they are designed to fit a certain way.
- Silicone ear plugs provide a happy medium. They are not cost-prohibitive, are easy to replace as needed, and their soft, putty-like design allows you to effortlessly mold them to your outer ear, effectively and efficiently sealing out water.
Because of their play dough-like consistency, silicone ear plugs do require a little extra care to prevent anything from getting stuck to them (hair, dust, lint, etc.), but promptly returning them to their protective case after use can mitigate any issues. You’ll also want to take care to mold the putty as one ball, rather than break it into pieces, to stave off any concerns of small pieces of the ear plug remaining in the ear.
Our ears are often overlooked (and not just because we can only see them with a mirror!), but that doesn’t make them any less important. Luckily, protecting your hearing from both injuries caused by loud noises and infections perpetrated by water is often as easy as using a pair of ear plugs. A simple solution for something so instrumental to our everyday lives? That’s music to our ears!
Cleveland Clinic: Ear Care Tips
Mayo Clinic: Airplane ear
Healthline: Outer Ear Infection (Swimmer’s Ear)
Audiology & Hearing Health: 4 Things to Know About Swimmers’ Earplugs
National Center for Biotechnology Information: Outer ear infection: Overview
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: Ear Infections in Children
Healthy Hearing: Kids and swim ear plugs: What you need to know
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Swimming and Ear Infections
VeryWell Health: Choosing the Right Earplugs to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear