What Kinds of Earplugs are the Most Comfortable?
Earplugs can be incredibly beneficial for a number of reasons, from reducing noise to protecting your hearing. People use earplugs for all kinds of reasons:
- To block out noise at night
- To minimize workplace noise
- To lessen pressure changes while flying
- To decrease damage to their ears at loud concerts
- To continue sleeping next to a snoring partner
- To negate the damaging effect of loud, transient noises (such as shooting a gun)
Earplugs, however, come in a variety of styles and materials, each offering varying levels of comfort. But which are the most comfortable?
Transparent thermoplastic is a special kind of plastic with proven noise-canceling technology. Earplugs that use this kind of plastic comprise an easily-grabbed stem section connected to a flower-like structure that blocks incoming sounds to the ear canal.
Clear thermoplastic earplugs are targeted at people who want to block out the sound of their partner’s snoring or their neighbor’s late-night rummaging. The FDA approves several transparent thermoplastic devices and recommends them for regular use, declaring them both safe and effective.
What sort of performance can you expect from clear thermoplastic? Data suggest that the performance is excellent, delivering around 25 decibels of noise cancellation, which equates to quieting a regular conversation to a whisper.
Clear thermoplastic earplugs come in a range of sizes, making them comfortable to fit into the ear, depending on the size of your ear canal opening. The soft and rubbery plastic provides a cushioning sensation, without feeling as if your ear is being pressurized, like some other designs.
Silicone earplugs are a favorite hearing solution among research centers and the US Navy. But are they suitable for ordinary people?
Silicone, as a material, has unique qualities that make it ideal for noise cancellation. Not only is it soft on the skin and non-reactive, but it can also be made into a wide variety of shapes, designed to cut out noise.
Most silicone earplugs comprise a central shaft surrounded by concentric rings of silicone flaps that block sound from traveling up the ear canal in multiple stages.
The ratings on silicone ear plugs vary substantially from manufacturer to manufacturer, though most achieve noise reduction ratings of 20 to 30 decibels.
Silicone earplugs are most commonly used for discomfort while flying, helping to not only cut out noise but also maintain constant internal pressure. The concentric rings protect against sudden changes in cabin pressure.
Foam earplugs are among the cheapest and most common of all earplugs on the market, used for everything from helping people fall asleep to blocking out loud noises on building sites.
Foam earplugs work differently from the other examples we’ve discussed so far. To fit a foam plug, a person must roll up the tip between their fingers and then quickly insert it into the ear canal before it expands. The plug will then slowly return to its original shape in the ear canal, closing up all the gaps through which sound might travel in the process.
Foam earplugs are generally less comfortable than other options. The foam can exert substantial pressure on the ear canal, leading to discomfort if worn for a long stretch of time, such as overnight,
Some manufacturers have experimented with different shapes to improve comfort, such as narrowing certain sections to make them more ergonomic, so you might seek these out if foam earplugs cause you pain.
But despite the discomfort, there are two main reasons to choose foam earplugs: they’re the most economical, and they provide the best noise-canceling performance. They’re easy to create en masse, and tiny pockets of air within the foam scatter sound waves and prevent them from reaching the inner ear. Many foam earplugs have noise cancellation ratings in excess of 30 dB, which is substantial.
The type of earplugs you choose depends primarily on your needs. The earplugs you opt for sleeping will differ substantially from those you use for flying.
If you need to wear earplugs regularly, you may benefit from having them custom made. Rather than sticking with generic foam earplugs built for the “average ear,” you could have a mold taken of your ear canal and then get a manufacturer to create a set of earplugs that fit perfectly. This option is, as you might expect, more costly.
If you’re considering wearing earplugs but aren’t sure which material to choose, then we’re here to help. With help from Modern Hearing, you can learn more about the earplug options available to you. Call us in Green Bay at 920-434-6800, New London at 920-982-3313, and Shawano at 715-524-4242 for more information.