Hearing Health Blog

Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re subjected to loud sounds, say using a lawnmower in your backyard, going to an arena to see your favorite band in concert, or simply sleeping at home next to a snoring spouse, earplugs might be helpful. Turning down the volume is how earplugs can help in the first two cases. In the last instance, they bring down the decibels plus help protect your peace of mind (and possibly your marriage) by letting you get a good night’s sleep. But are these ear protectors, really, causing damage to your hearing?

Why Utilize Earplugs at All?

The case for earplugs is fairly simple: When used properly, earplugs can help to safeguard your ears by reducing your direct exposure to excessive decibel levels. After you leave a loud place, like a football game where the announcer keeps exhorting the crowd to, GET LOUD, every time the other team kicks off, you’ve most likely noticed that your hearing seems off, and you might also experience symptoms of tinnitus. This happens because those super-loud sounds actually bend the little hair cells in your inner ear. In a day or two, when the hairs have recovered, it often goes away.

But if you’re exposed to excessive decibels regularly, for instance, if you work on a construction crew or at an airport, the aural attack on those tiny hair cells is unrelenting. In this instance, those hairs don’t heal, they are permanently injured. You’ve got around 16,000 of those little cells in each cochlea, but up to 50% of them can be injured or ruined before your hearing has altered enough for the problem to show up in a hearing exam.

Is it Possible That Your Ears Could be Injured by Earplugs?

In terms of protecting your ears, you’d think it would be obvious to wear earplugs. But primarily if you’re in situations where you’re exposed to loud noises all the time (like on the job or with the previously mentioned snoring significant other), headphones that decrease, but don’t entirely cancel, sound or over the head earmuffs are a much better idea. Earplugs are better suited to one-off scenarios like a sporting event or concert than for regular use.

Why? For one, earwax. Your ears generate wax to defend themselves, and if wearing earplugs is something you do regularly, they’re going to make more of it, and the earplugs will push it in further. Tinnitus and other issues can be the result of impacted earwax.

Ear infections can be another issue for those who wear earplugs. They can become bacteria breeding grounds if you regularly wear the same pair without proper cleaning and disinfecting. Ear infections are, at the very least, an uncomfortable irritation. But at the worst-case-scenario end of the scale, they can also cause hearing loss if left untreated.

How Can You Use Earplugs Without Risk?

Whether it’s a good night sleep or safeguarding your hearing, there’s still a strong benefit to wearing earplugs. Using them in the proper way and using the most appropriate kind is the secret to success. Foam earplugs are the least expensive, which is helpful because you really shouldn’t use them more than once, the cushy, porous material is a germ’s haven. Don’t put wax or silicone earplugs back in until they are completely dry after utilizing warm water to completely sanitize them. Accumulation of humidity can cause mold and bacteria so keep your earplugs in a well ventilated place.

You might want to speak with us about custom fit earplugs if you want or need them regularly. They’re comfortable because they’re made from molds of your ears and they’re reusable. Again though, to avoid any possible hearing damage, it’s important to put into practice good earplug hygiene!

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