You Need Earplugs, But With So Many Options Which Are Best?

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No matter who you are, you will no doubt encounter situations in life in which you will find yourself asking, "Why didn't I buy ear plugs?!".

Perhaps you attended a musical performance that was way too loud, traveled with a friend who turned out to be a "super snorer" or have a neighbor that decided to throw a party the night before your big presentation. After several of these unfortunate experiences, you finally take preventative measures and decide to buy ear plugs, but with so many ear plug styles now available, how do you choose and which are best?

I'll describe the various earplug styles below. Flanged earplugs - Flanged earplugs are earplugs that have been pre-molded or formed, typically into a shape that resembles a small Christmas tree, drain plug, or modeled after the outer section of the ear canal. These earplugs are typically molded from silicone, latex or plastic.

They can be designed for noise protection, water protection, or both. Pros - Washable, reusable, durable Cons - Poor quality ear plugs can cause irritation/discomfort to the ear canal, can be uncomfortable for long-term use.

Foam earplugs - When most people think of earplugs, they think of foam earplugs. Because foam earplugs are typically the least expensive style, they tend to be the most commonly used. They are produced in 2 common shapes, round-ended, like a finger-tip or barrel-shaped. The rounded tip is generally preferred as it tends to be more ergonomic.

The barrel-shaped ear plugs tend to be less comfortable, but also a bit less expensive. Foam earplugs are designed for noise protection only. Some manufacturers offer foam earplugs in smaller sizes for those with small or sensitive ear canals.

There are even foam earplugs designed to fit in your wallet so you never again get caught in a noisy situation without your earplugs.

Pros - Inexpensive, good sound blocking, relatively comfortable for long-term use Cons - Designed for single use, application can be tricky for first-time users Moldable silicone earplugs - Made of soft, moldable silicone putty, these ear plugs mold to the outside of the ear canal and form an airtight/watertight seal. They are very comfortable and effective for both noise protection and water protection.

Pros - Easy to apply, comfortable, dual-purpose, bacteria resistant, inexpensive Cons - Must be replaced after several uses Custom molded earplugs - These earplugs are made by injecting an epoxy into the outer ear canal. When the epoxy cures or "sets" the mold is used to make a custom fitted set of earplugs. Generally, an appointment with a professional audiologist or hearing health professional is required for the initial procedure. They can be fitted with filters for targeted uses for noise or water protection.

Pros - Can be fitted with use-specific filters, fitted to your ear, reusable, durable Cons - A new fitting is recommended every year or two to maintain performance, expensive So which ear plugs are best? There is no "best" earplug. The best thing to do is to evaluate your specific needs, budget and preferences and choose earplugs based on those factors.

Buy ear plugs from a reputable hearing protection company. It is important to consider the noise reduction rating (NRR) listed on all earplugs designed for noise protection. I recommend purchasing a few different ear plug styles in your price range and try them out to determine which works best for your needs.

I use several different styles depending on whether I'm sleeping, swimming, attending rock concerts or working with power tools. Choose ear plugs that are performance appropriate, comfortable and convenient for you. Otherwise, you are not likely to use them. Keep some in your travel bag, work shop, office, nightstand, wallet, glove box and sports bag. Now go buy some ear plugs.

You will be happier and healthier for it.

The author of this article has worked as a consultant in the hearing health industry for 25 years. Having vast experience in earplugs and other hearing protection related products, the author has published numerous articles in an effort to help increase hearing health awareness.

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