Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re exposed to loud noises, for instance running a lawnmower in your yard, going to a venue to see your favorite band play, or merely sleeping at home next to a snoring spouse, earplugs may be helpful. In the first two situations, they can assist in safeguarding your ears by decreasing the volume. In the last circumstances, they bring down the decibels and help save your sanity (and possibly your marriage) by permitting you to get a good night’s sleep. But is your hearing being harmed by these protectors?

Why Utilize Earplugs in The First Place?

The argument for earplugs is quite simple: When used properly, earplugs can minimize your exposure to extreme noise levels and thereby protect your hearing. Maybe you’ve noticed that your hearing sounds different when you leave a loud venue, for instance, a football game with a noisy crowd, and you may also suffer from symptoms of tinnitus. Those tiny hairs are bent by this kind of noise exposure and that’s why this happens. In a day or two, when the hairs have recovered, it generally goes away.

But in a number of instances, there is a relentless assault on those little hairs, this is especially true if you work in a noisy trade such as construction or in an airport. As opposed to bending and then recovering, the cells are damaged permanently. You’ve got about 16,000 of those tiny cells inside each cochlea, but up to 50% of them can be destroyed or at least damaged before you would see the different in a hearing exam.

How Could Your Ears be Harmed by Using Earplugs?

With regards to protecting your hearing, it seems like it would be a no-brainer to wear earplugs. But particularly if you’re in situations where you’re exposed to loud noises on a regular basis (like on the job or when your spouse snores as previously stated), over-the-head earmuffs or noise-reducing (but not completely stopping) headphones are a smarter option. Earplugs aren’t the best choice for day to day use but are better suited to one time occasions like a concert or sporting events.

Why? For one, earwax. So that they can protect themselves, your ears generate earwax, and if you’re constantly using earplugs, more earwax will be produced, and the earplugs will jam it in further. This can lead to issues like impacted earwax, which can trigger tinnitus and other hearing problems.

Ear infections can be another problem for people who wear earplugs. If you continuously use the same pair, and you don’t clean them properly from use to use, they can become bacteria traps. Ear infections are, at the very least, a painful annoyance. But at the worst-case-scenario end of the spectrum, they can also cause a loss of hearing if you fail to get treatment.

How Can You Use Earplugs Without Risk?

Whether it’s a restful night sleep or safeguarding your ears, there’s still a strong positive to wearing earplugs. You just need to be sure you’re using the correct kind and using them the proper way. Foam earplugs are the least expensive, which is good because you really shouldn’t reuse them, the cushy, porous material is a germ’s paradise. Wax or silicone earplugs are reusable, but you need to keep them clean, wash them with warm water and mild soap to wash them, and don’t put them back in your ears until they’re totally dry. It’s also a good plan to store earplugs in a ventilated container to prevent humidity, or worse, mold or bacteria, from accumulating.

You might want to talk to us about custom fit earplugs if you want or need them regularly. They are comfortable since they are crafted from molds of your ears and they are reusable. Again though, to stop any potential hearing problems, it’s important to practice good earplug hygiene!

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