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Earplugs can help cancel out noise to promote sleep, improve focus in workplaces and public transit, and protect the ears at loud concerts or during swimming.

Earplugs for different uses

Earplugs are small products that people put in their ears to reduce outside noise. People may use them in different situations, including:

  • During sleep: About one-thirdTrusted Source of all adults in the United States experience sleep deprivation. A recent studyTrusted Source in hospital patients shows that using earplugs and eye masks may help people wake up less often during sleep.
  • For comfort: ResearchTrusted Source shows that comfort is a key deciding factor in earplug use. How well earplugs fit often depends on ear canal size and where they sit while a person sleeps. A person may need to try a couple of options to find their ideal match.
  • To otherwise cancel out noise: The noise reduction rating (NRR)Trusted Source roughly indicates how well earplugs and similar devices can block sound. The higher the NRR rating, the more noise is blocked out.
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How to choose

Earplugs may be made of thermoplastic, silicone, foam, or wax. Shapes and sizes also vary. People may wish to consider the following when purchasing earplugs:

  • Price: The price may depend on the materials and whether the earplugs are reusable or disposable.
  • Quantity: Some companies sell single-use earplugs in bulk, and these may be a better option for workplaces, such as construction sites.
  • Reusable vs. single-use: Some earplugs are washable and reusable, while others should be disposed of after a single use. Other earplugs are multiple-use, but people should dispose of them when they become dirty.
  • Size and shape: Many earplugs fit most ear canal sizes and shapes. However, some companies have products that are tailored for different ear canal sizes.
  • Materials: Silicone earplugs are hypoallergenic, whereas foam plugs may resist a buildup of dirt.

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10 of the best earplugs

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based.

Howard Leight by Honeywell Laser Lite High Visibility Disposable Foam Earplugs

These vibrant, yellow and magenta earplugs help with visibility in the workplace. They also offer a high NRR of 32 decibels (dB).

The T-shape and foam composition can make insertion and removal relatively easy. The makers claim that their product has a near-universal fit and that the soil-resistant, closed-cell foam skin prevents dirt buildup.

Online reviews have been positive, though some say that the earplugs fall out at night.SHOP NOW

Mack’s Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs

These moldable, silicone earplugs offer hypoallergenic, waterproof protection. They cover the opening of the ear canal, rather than fitting inside it.

The makers say that their product alleviates pressure and pain during flying and can block out snoring. The NRR is 22 dB, but the company offers other products with ratings of up to 33 dB.

According to some reports, silicone putty plugs are more comfortable than custom-molded ones. Some online reviews praise the versatility of this product, while others report discomfort and say that the earplugs fell away easily.SHOP NOW

Kuyax Premium Silicone Ear Plugs

These washable, reusable earplugs have an NRR of 32 dB. They are made of high-grade, hypoallergenic silicone and are designed for different noise and pressure environments, such as concerts, watersport arenas, and construction sites.

The makers highlight that a person can cut the material to make it more suitable for children and adults. Because no long ends stick out, these earplugs are suitable for side sleepers, the company says.

Online reviews are positive overall.SHOP NOW

3M Earplugs, E-A-Rsoft Yellow Neons 312-1250

Containing soft, slow-recovery foam, these latex-free earplugs are easy to roll down and insert. Each pair comes in a hygienic bag.

Commonly used in agriculture, the automotive industry, and construction, the company says, these earplugs have an NRR of 33 dB.

The makers say that their product is sized for universal use. However, some online reviewers say that these do not fit larger ear canals.SHOP NOW

Mpow 055A Super Soft Foam Earplugs

These earplugs are made from nontoxic, low-pressure polyurethane foam that slowly expands in the ear. They have an NRR of 32 dB.

The manufacturer has designed these to block snoring and harmful loud noises. A person should discard them after several uses or once they become dirty.

Online reviews are good overall, although some people report issues with the size and say that these earplugs do not stay in the ear.SHOP NOW

ANBOW Silicone Ear Plugs

These reusable, washable, and hypoallergenic earplugs have an NRR of 32 dB. The makers say that the ultra-soft, high-grade silicone material can last for years and that their product is designed for comfort.

These earplugs come with a plastic storage box and a waterproof travel pouch. A person does not roll these between the fingertips, as they would with foam plugs, but instead twists them during insertion to ensure the right fit.

Some online reviews praise the optional string attachment, while others question the level of noise cancellation and comfort.SHOP NOW

World’s Finest Mighty Plugs

Made from natural beeswax, these are hypoallergenic, reusable, and waterproof. They have an NRR of 34 dB.

The makers say that their product fits all ear canal sizes and is great during sleep, relaxation, study, and concerts and other loud activities.

Online reviews are generally positive, though some say that these earplugs are ineffective and fragile.SHOP NOW

Hearprotek Memory Foam Eartips

These earplugs have foam ear tips and wings to enhance their fit and function. Each case has small, medium, and large sizes.

Made from soft, hypoallergenic memory foam, these have been designed to suit side sleepers.

They have a high NRR of 33 dB.SHOP NOW

Eargrace Noise Reduction Ear Plugs

The two-layer, flange ergonomic design is built for small ear canals and suitable for side sleepers.

This reusable product blocks out 32 dB of noise and has an attenuation filter that helps block noise that affects sleep, as well as general disturbances from the office, construction site, or city street.SHOP NOW

Decibullz Custom Molded High-Fidelity Earplugs

These molded earpieces have high-fidelity acoustic filters and suit people with tinnitus, according to the makers, who also say that their product fits all ear canal sizes. The NRR rating is 12 dB.

The earplugs have three sizes of tips and come with a snap-close carrying pouch.

Decibullz earplugs are compatible with other products that the company sells. For example, an earplug-to-earphone kit is available. These may be ideal for musicians and regular concertgoers.SHOP NOWMEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERKnowledge is power. Get our free daily newsletter.

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Alternatives to earplugs

Wearing earplugs can have negative effects, including pushing earwax deeper into the ear. This may increase the risk of tinnitus or hearing loss. In addition, bacteria can build up on some earplugs, which may lead to an infection.

Here are a few alternatives:

  • White noise machines: These produce a continuous background sound that can drown out distracting noises. A range of white noise machines is available for purchase online.
  • Sleep apps: There are dozens of these, and they offer relaxing melodies, noise cancellation, sounds of nature, and sleep trackers.
  • Headband headphones: These have soft speaker inserts for back and side sleepers. They can also play white noise from an app. A range is available for purchase online.
  • Music: Background music may help redirect attention from distracting noises.
  • Soundproofing: While this may be an expensive option, insulated windows and doors can help cancel out noise.

Frequently asked questions

Below are some frequently asked questions about earplugs.

Is it safe to wear earplugs when sleeping?

It is generally safe to do so. ResearchTrusted Source suggests that using earplugs and eye masks while sleeping may lead to fewer sleep interruptions. There has been little research about the risks of wearing earplugs while sleeping, however.

Can earplugs damage ears?

Currently, there is no evidence for this. However, wearing earplugs may lead to a buildup of earwax because they can block the wax’s exit through the ear canal. People may experience discomfort and pain if they have excess ear wax.

How often should earplugs be replaced?

People should follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some products are only suitable for one use, while others are reusable.

Summary

There are several factors to consider when purchasing earplugs, such as cost, ear size, comfort, and intended use. It is also worth keeping reviews and return policies in mind.

What to know about sleeping with earplugs

Earplugs are generally safe to use while sleeping. However, it is possible that frequent use can lead to some minor problems in the long run, such as earwax buildup.

Sometimes, noise from the environment can disrupt sleep. For example, having a bedroom that faces a busy street can affect sleep duration. However, disrupted sleep may also be a problem when trying to sleep in different environments, such as on a plane.

Earplugs can significantly reduce the amount of sound entering the ears, which may help people get to sleep in noisy environments.

This article will discuss the safety of earplugs and the benefits they can provide.

Safety

Sleeping with earplugs
Using earplugs while sleeping can block out surrounding noises.

Using earplugs is a great way to block out surrounding noises that can disturb a natural sleep pattern.

Not all noises have a negative effect on sleep. For example, some people find white noise or music helpful for falling asleep.

In many cases, however, noise can make it difficult to fall asleep or to get a full night’s sleep.

Earplugs could promote good sleep for people who live in a noisy neighborhood or want to get some sleep on a flight.

What does the research say?

Research showsTrusted Source that earplugs are a safe and affordable way of improving sleep quality.

In some cases, the use of earplugs, along with eye masks, can increase rapid eye movement (REM) sleepTrusted SourceREM sleep is the deepest form of sleepTrusted Source and supports several important processes, such as memory consolidation.

Earplugs may also increase melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that controls when the body is ready for sleep.

Compared with some other methods of inducing sleep, earplugs have fewer side effects. For example, both over-the-counter and prescription sleeping pills can have a range of side effects, such as dizziness and daytime drowsiness.

Types and how to use

It is important to use earplugs appropriately, depending on their typeTrusted Source.

For expandable foam earplugs, roll them into a tight cylindrical shape and insert halfway into the ear canal, where they will expand.

Other types of earplugs are cone-shaped and will not expand in the ear. Carefully insert the smaller end into the ear canal and gently push the earplug in to tighten.

The earplug should noticeably reduce sound but still be comfortable enough to sleep in. At first, using earplugs may feel unnatural. However, this feeling will go away over time.

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Risks

Sleeping with earplugs may cause earwax
Wearing earplugs can lead to a buildup of earwax, causing itching and discomfort in the ear.

Although earplugs are safe to use in general, there is little information on how frequent use of earplugs over long periods of time could affect the ears.

One possible risk is a buildup of earwaxEarwax, or cerumen, is a waxy substance that helps protect the ear canal from water, bacteria, dead skin, and other harmful debris.

Earwax is important for maintaining good ear health, but it can also cause problems.

Repeatedly blocking the ear canal, such as with regular use of earplugs, can cause a buildup of earwax.

Having a buildup of earwax can cause:

  • itching and discomfort in the ear
  • tinnitus, a ringing noise in the ear
  • hearing difficulties
  • cough
  • dizziness

Treatments options for an earwax buildup include using medical eardrops or undergoing the direct removal of the earwax.

It is also possible for the regular use of earplugs to cause an ear infectionTrusted Source. This can occur as a result of bacteria entering the ear canal from the earplug itself or growing from a buildup of earwax.

An ear infection can cause symptoms that include:

  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • hearing problems
  • itching and discomfort in the ear
  • tinnitus

It is possible to treat a bacterial ear infection by taking antibiotic medications.MEDICAL NEWS TODAY NEWSLETTERKnowledge is power. Get our free daily newsletter.

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Other benefits

Sleeping with earplugs aids sleep which helps happiness
Getting enough sleep is essential for good health.

Earplugs can help improve the quality and duration of sleep. They can also allow people to take naps in public places and catch up on any missed sleep from the night before.

Getting enough sleep has a range of health benefits. A lack of sleep could increase the riskTrusted Source of chronic health conditions such as:

Sleep deprivation can also have more immediate effects on the body and mind. Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • drowsiness
  • problems concentrating
  • memory difficulties
  • reduced strength
  • increased risk of infection
  • mood swings
  • hallucinations

These symptoms can be highly disruptive to daily life. They can even be life threatening when they occur during driving or operating heavy machinery.

Earplugs can help people avoid sleep deprivation and the chronic health conditions it can cause. Adults should aim to get at least 7 hoursTrusted Source of sleep per night, while teenagers and children tend to need around 8–13 hours of sleep every night.

Takeaway

Earplugs are a safe and affordable way of getting more good quality sleep. Frequent use of earplugs could lead to a buildup of earwax or an ear infection.

However, the dangers of sleep deprivation are more severe. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk of chronic health conditions and be highly disruptive to normal daily life.

People who are unable to get a good night’s sleep due to excess noise in their environment may benefit from using earplugs.

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