To protect your hearing, begin with the basics – ear plugs. These small devices are inserted into the ear to block out disruptive or damaging sounds. Shopping for ear plugs can be confusing, as there are a large variety of styles available, but with patience and a little bit of know-how you can find the plug for you.
First of all, figure out how much noise reduction you need from your ear plugs. Ear plugs are labelled with a noise reduction rating (NRR) to indicate how much noise they are able to block. Better quality ear plugs will have NRR’s between 21 and 33. Second, consider where and when you’ll use the ear plugs most often. If you need something to block out the noise of traffic or construction work while studying or working, a lower NRR plug will likely be sufficient. However if you spend a lot of time around fairly loud noises you’ll need a higher NRR as would be the case for heavy equipment operators or musicians.
Third, evaluate the different materials that ear plugs are made from. Foam ear plugs are made from a type of memory foam that is inserted into the ear canal. Foam ear plugs compress as they are pressed into the ear and expand slightly when released to plug the ear canal. In contrast, you can use silicone plugs to mold a perfectly-fitted barrier around the outside of your ear. Both foam and silicone ear plugs need to be replaced periodically.
Your final step is to consider why you are shopping for plugs in the first place. A simple foam or silicone plug will suffice in many circumstances; however, there are specialized plugs available for specific environments. If you are a musician who is constantly exposed to loud music, you may want to look into custom-made, non-disposable earplugs. These plugs are carefully crafted to fit your ear, allowing you to hear what you are playing while blocking out harmful sounds.
Many people shop for earplugs to wear while sleeping to block out the sound of their partner’s snoring. Look for specialized plugs that will block out the sound of snoring while still allowing you to hear your alarm clock, fire alarm, and other important sounds. Take time to test out the plugs with your head tilted to the side. This simulates the changes that take place in your ear canal while lying down, helping you determine whether the plugs will be comfortable while you are sleeping.
If you take the time to really think about what you need your earplugs for, you should not have any problems finding a pair that suits you.