The Ultimate Guide to Wearing (and Choosing) Ear Plugs


Do you have difficulty sleeping at night? Do your ears hurt when you fly? Are you prone to swimmer’s ear? Do you attend noisy events or enjoy hunting? Are you a musician or do you attend a lot of concerts?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you!

We are talking about ear plugs.

Below you will find a complete guide to choosing and wearing the right ear plugs for the following situations/scenarios (the links below can be used to jump to that specific section):

If you have ever wondered whether you should be wearing ear plugs, and which ear plugs are the best for each situation, then we’ve got you covered!

Before we dive into the different types of ear plugs, you must first understand what makes one earplug better than another.

Achieving the Proper Fit

First of all, earplugs must fit properly and be worn correctly in order to do the job. If you are trying to get by with a poor quality or poor fitting ear plug, then you are doing yourself a disservice and could actually be causing more harm to your ears.

The effectiveness of a hearing protection earplug or earmuff is specified by a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The typical range for hearing protection is from 15 to 35 decibels of sound attenuation. The higher the NRR is, the more noise attenuation it provides, as long as it is also a good fit in the ear.

Choosing the Right Type

There are many different types of earplugs available. The type of earplug chosen will depend on each individual’s needs, as well as style preferences.

Earplugs for Sleeping

When should you wear them?

Sleep is very important to your overall health, and approximately 30% of the world’s population isn’t getting enough of it. When you have trouble sleeping due to ambient noise, earplugs specifically designed for sleep are a great solution.

Sleep earplugs are generally made for comfort, with a softer and more flexible material so they can be worn all night long without irritation.

Who should wear them?

  • Sleeping partners of heavy snorers
  • Anyone sleeping in a noisy environment due to traffic noise, noisy neighbors, student living, etc.
  • Travelers who need to rest on-the-go

Types of Sleep Earplugs

Custom sleep earplugs. Can be made by a hearing healthcare professional by taking an earmold impression of your ear and sending that impression to an earplugs manufacturer who will then custom make a pair of ear plugs for you. These usually offer the most sound attenuation.

Disposable sleep ear plugs. Typically made of a soft foam material for comfort. They are only meant to be used one or two times at most before a new pair is needed.

Moldable earplugs. A great alternative solution for when you can’t get a comfortable fit with a traditional earplug and you don’t like the way the foam feels in the ear. These are made of a wax or silicone material and are molded into the bowl of the ear by the wearer.

Reusable sleep ear plugs. Typically made of a soft silicone or plastic material. They are generally more durable and can be reused for several night’s sleep.

Earplugs for Noise Reduction

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for noise, sometimes called sound plugs should be worn around any loud environmental noise, such as when around machinery, power tools, lawn equipment, gunfire, aircrafts, explosives, sporting events, motorcycles, and loud music to prevent noise-induced hearing loss.

Any sounds louder than 85 decibels have the potential for causing noise-induced hearing loss. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require earplug use for workers exposed to loud noises. But, earplugs should be used by those engaging in loud recreational activites as well.

Who should wear them?

  • Workers who are exposed to harmful noise levels as recommended by OSHA
  • Sporting event attendees such as NASCAR, football games, etc.
  • Military personnel who are exposed to gunfire and/or explosives
  • Anyone using power tools, lawn equipment, or machinery for home or recreational use

Types of Noise Earplugs

Custom noise plugs. Almost always the most efficient when it comes to blocking out harmful sounds. They can be purchased through a hearing healthcare professional who will first take a impression of your ear for a custom-fit.

Earmuffs. A popular form of noise protection for those working around machinery or lawn equipment. Earmuffs are desired by some people who do not like the way earplugs feel in the ear, or if they need some added protection. Earmuffs can sometimes provide more noise attenuation than earplugs can, for those working in extremely loud environments such as with aircraft engines or heavy machinery.

Reusable noise plugs. An inexpensive way to make sure you are always prepared. They are typically made of a soft silicone material and can be cleaned after use for re-use later. Reusable noise earplugs can come corded or non-corded, and some brands include a carrying case.

Disposable noise plugs. The least expensive option for occasional use, but if you plan on wearing earplugs often, it pays to invest in a reusable pair. Disposable earplugs must be discarded after each use and are generally made of a foam material.

Earplugs for Shooting

When should you wear them?

Earplugs or earmuffs should be worn anytime you are around gunfire. The average gunfire shot can often exceed 140 dB, a dangerous level that can cause permanent hearing loss. It only takes one if these loud impulse noise exposures to affect your hearing. Whether shooting the gun yourself, or standing near gunfire, noise protection earplugs should be worn.

Who should wear them?

  • Military personnel exposed to gunfire
  • Anyone attending or working at a gun range
  • Hunters or recreational shooters

Types of Shooting Earplugs

Custom shooter earplugs. Great for the professional shooter or hunter who will need high-quality and comfortable plugs for everyday use. They can be ordered through a hearing healthcare professional using an earmold impression of your ear canal.

Electronic shooter earplugs. Feature micro processors that compress dangerously loud noises (gun blasts) while allowing safe levels of sound (speech, ambient sound) to pass through to the ear. They are the most expensive type of earplug (typically $200-$400) but perfect for those who regularly spend time in shooting environments.

Reusable shooter earplugs. Available corded or non-corded. The corded model is great for shooters who want to be able to easily remove them between shooting sessions, without losing them.

Disposable shooter earplugs. Basic foam earplugs that are used for any general noise protection.

Earmuffs. Popular among those at a shooting range where you are exposed to not only your own gunfire, but also that of the shooters around you. Earmuffs typically have a high noise attenuation level, great for those high impact noises like gunfire.

Earplugs for Music

When should you wear them?

Musicians spend a lot of their time around damaging noise levels. Whether they play a musical instrument or sing in a band, musicians are at risk for developing music-induced hearing loss.

Almost all instruments are capable of producing damaging sound levels, and then you add in the amplifier and advanced sound systems which can increase the volume even further.

Musicians rely on their hearing in practice and performance, and it is important that their hearing is not compromised over time.

However, many musicians choose to not wear earplugs because standard noise-reduction earplugs can degrade the quality of the music. High fidelity earplugs, on the other hand, are capable of letting in the good (the precise tonal quality) and keeping out the bad (the high volume).

High fidelity earplugs take into the account the resonant frequency of the ear so that attenuation of the sound is even across the frequency spectrum, preserving the original musical quality, only quieter.

Musician earplugs are not only for musicians, but for music lovers as well. For those who frequently attend concerts or music events, investing in a pair of high-fidelity earplugs will save your hearing after years of enjoying the music.

Who should wear them?

  • Professional or amateur musicians of any kind
  • Students in band or orchestra class and marching band
  • Music instructors and conductors
  • Concert and music festival attendees
  • Nightclub or loud bar attendees
  • Entertainment industry staff and concert crews

Types of Music Earplugs

Custom musician earplugs. Consist of a filter and a custom earplug that is molded to the shape of the ear. The filter is typically a 9, 15, or 25 dB attenuation filter. The ER-15 filter is appropriate for most musicians. The ER-25 filter may be necessary for drummers or amplified bands. The ER-9 filter is appropriate for solo or acoustic performers. Custom earplugs offer just that, customization. These can be purchased from a hearing healthcare professional who will first take an earmold impression of your ear to customize the earplug.

Non-custom reusable earplugs. An inexpensive alternative for musicians, students, and concert attendees. They still take into account the resonance of the ear to preserve the musical quality, while reducing overall sound volume. Many people are unaware that there are non-custom musicians earplugs. When purchasing a pair of musician earplugs, you want to look for the term “high-fidelity”. These are a great inexpensive solution that can save the hearing of students, music instructors, and musicians who are consistently exposed to damaging music levels.

Electronic musicians earplugs. Adaptive earplugs that can adjust to changing sound levels. For example, a band instructor may need to hear the student’s questions during band practice, but also get protection from the music when the band begins playing. Adaptive earplugs will let low level sounds (the student speaking) come through naturally, while automatically kicking in to provide a sound attenuation of either 9 or 15 dB during the loud sound (when the band begins playing).

Earplugs for Swimming

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for swimming, also called swimplugs should be worn when swimming or showering when it is necessary to keep water out of the ear. This may be to avoid an ear infection in dirty water, or when there is a perforation in the eardrum. Many children require the use of swimplugs after receiving pressure equalization (PE) tubes in the ears following chronic ear infections. While the tubes are present, it is important to keep water out of the ear to prevent infection.

Who should wear them?

Anyone with pressure equalization tubes or a perforated eardrum
Those at risk for chronic ear infections
Those who swim in dirty or cold water

Types of Swim Earplugs

Custom swimplugs. Can be purchased from a hearing healthcare professional. A mold is taken of the ear so that the plug fits snug in the ear and prevents any water entry.

Moldable earplugs. The next best option behind custom swimplugs. They are usually made of a silicone or wax material that can be molded into the bowl of the ear to keep water out.

Earplugs for Flying

When should you wear them?

Earplugs for flying, also commonly called earPlanes, are not used for noise reduction. Instead, they are used for helping to naturally equalize the air pressure in the ear canal when the cabin pressure rapidly changes.

They help to prevent popping, pain, and pressure caused by the rapid change in air pressure upon take-off and landing.

Who should wear them?

Those with history of ear infections or Eustachian tube dysfunction
Those experiencing sinus or allergy issues

Types of Flying Earplugs

Earplanes are the most popular type of earplugs for flying. They are made of a soft hypoallergenic silicone material and can be used twice before being discarded (two flights).

Earmuffs for Kids

“The prevalence of hearing loss among children and adolescents is rising dramatically, caused mainly by increased exposure to recreational noise.” (Source)

When should you wear them?

Earmuffs are more suitable for children versus earplugs, because they are safer, easier to use, and provide optimal sound attenuation. Babies and children should wear earmuffs whenever they are exposed to loud sounds for any extended time period, such as when at a sporting event, fireworks show, or concert. It is important to begin protecting your child’s hearing immediately. The cumulative affects of noise on a child’s hearing can be extremely damaging later in life.

Who should wear them?

Babies and children exposed to loud noise levels

Types of Kids Earmuffs

The best earmuffs are the ones that fit well. Even tiny gaps around the earpiece can allow damaging sounds to get into the child’s ears. A padded earpiece and an adjustable headband is preferred for the best fit.