February 29, 2024

Earplugs can provide a degree of calm and peace amid auditory chaos. When you’re trying to cope with loud situations, having the option to tune things out and turn them down can make a world of difference. Earplugs can be made from a variety of materials, including foam, hard silicone, soft silicone and wax. Whether you’re trying to sleep, manage sensory overload or simply focus in a noisy environment, earplugs may be able to help. Here are the benefits of earplugs, and how to use them safely.

Hearing protection

Roughly 48 million Americans report having a hearing problem in at least one ear, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And hearing damage is largely irreversible — once your ears lose the ability to hear a specific frequency, it isn’t likely to come back, the agency says.

Many regular activities can contribute to hearing loss. Taking a flight and being exposed to airplane noise; working with power tools; attending concerts; and even listening to music on your headphones can all play a role. Thankfully, there are ways to cut back on risks and protect your hearing. You can reduce your exposure to loud noises by avoiding them, but you can also wear hearing protection.

Earplugs are a convenient and effective form of hearing protection that can easily be stored in a pocket. Wearing these protective devices when around loud sounds can help insulate your ears and prevent hearing loss.

Noise reduction

While protecting your hearing is essential, it isn’t the only reason to consider earplugs. Noise exposure can result in stress, cardiovascular issues and more, according to the World Health Organization. Research has also shown that excessive noise exposure in childhood is linked to a risk of worsened cognitive and academic performance. 

Noise became recognized as a public health hazard within the US in 1968, according to the American Public Health Association. However, relatively little has been done to address this hazard from a policy standpoint, and most Americans must rely on themselves for noise protection and reduction. Earplugs can be an easy and convenient tool to help you protect yourself from noise hazards in everyday life.

Person with shaved head wearing yellow earplugs

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Better sleep

Quality sleep matters: It’s one of the most important contributors to good health and well-being. Getting too little sleep, or poor sleep, for long enough can lead to an increased risk of several diseases and disorders, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Noise can be a significant contributor to sleep disruption and deprivation.

By reducing unwanted sounds, earplugs can help some people sleep through the night. If you have a snoring housemate, loud neighbors or live near noisy transportation or businesses, earplugs may be able to give you a good night’s sleep. 

Focus

If you’ve ever had to focus on a school or work assignment in a noisy space, you’ve probably noticed how distracting the clamor can be — and how much longer it can take you to finish your task. Imagine you’re in a coffee shop, wholly zoned in on your work, when suddenly  the door flies open and a group of joyously noisy customers barges in. Getting irritated might be one reaction, but wouldn’t it be more convenient if you could just pull out some earplugs and make the noise go away? Keeping earplugs in a pocket or bag can help prepare you to create enough quiet to focus no matter where you are. 

Reducing sensory overload

Some of us are more readily overwhelmed by sensory information – including sounds, sights, smells, textures and tastes – than other folks are. If walking into a crowded space full of chaotic conversation puts you in a state of fight, flight or freeze, then this might apply to you. Earplugs can help with the auditory component of sensory overload. By reducing how much sound reaches your ears, you may be able to bring your experience of the surrounding chaos to a manageable level. 

Some specialized earplugs can even cancel out loud noises while allowing you to participate in a conversation. Loop Engage is a patented earplug that reduces volume while still letting you hear. People dealing with ADHD or autism may find that this technology provides a degree of comfort and insulation in otherwise overwhelming situations. Indeed, anyone who experiences sensory overload from auditory input might benefit from similar products.

Hands holding a case of earplugs

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Using earplugs safely

Though earplugs can provide many benefits, there are some risks to be aware of. Constant use of earplugs can potentially contribute to wax buildup within the ear and may lead to bacteria accumulation or infection in some situations, according to Healthline. Occasional use is less likely to result in difficulties, as this allows the ears to properly clean themselves.  

Another consideration is that effective earplugs may keep you from hearing important sounds, like a smoke detector, especially when you’re asleep. That’s more likely to be a problem for people with hearing loss. Still, if no one in your home is sleeping without earplugs, it might be wise to test to see if you can hear your smoke detector or other alarms while wearing the plugs.

To use earplugs safely:

  • Take regular breaks from earplugs to prevent wax buildup.
  • Find the right amount of noise reduction for your purposes.
  • When using foam earplugs, replace them regularly.
  • Remember you may not be able to hear emergency alerts or warning sounds as easily.
  • See a doctor if you develop signs of irritation or infection in your ear.

If you don’t think earplugs are the right solution, don’t worry: There are alternatives. Some people prefer earmuffs, which reduce noise by fitting over the ears instead of inside them. Others have found that noise-canceling headphones work well for their needs. When dealing with harmful levels of noise, the important thing is to know that you have options to help protect your hearing and peace of mind. 

Read more: Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for 2024