Earplugs are a popular way to avoid unwanted clamor and a means to protecting ears from noise trauma. It’s also something people turn to when avoiding noise-induced hearing loss. The most common uses include dampening sound in noisy workplaces, air travel, snoring partners and when swimming.
And just as there are many reasons for wearing earplugs, there are as many types of earplugs to choose from. What we’ll talk about today are earplugs with strings and where these can benefit you more than those that are uncorded.
Why use earplugs in the first place?
Earplugs are the go-to device for muffling out sound and giving some sensible protection to your ears. This small, protective earpiece may seem like a modern-day invention to shield against the hubbub of the modern world but interestingly, the earliest recorded mention of earplugs comes from the Greek tale, Odyssey.
It’s when Odysseus was to sail past an island where the Sirens sang from, that he was warned to cover his and his crew’s ears with earplugs fashioned from beeswax. And if you look at this invention historically too, the very first earplugs were indeed produced from wax.
From there, they moved onto being produced from pure silicone which gave them moldability. Other construction materials include plastic and foam and we’ll get into that a little later in the article.
But for now, here are some scenarios where using earplugs is highly recommended:
Workplaces with noise hazards require everyone to wear hearing protection and earplugs make a suitable fit. They are less bulky than earmuffs making them easier to use alongside other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as goggles and head protection. Earplugs are also more suitable for places with warmer climates as earmuffs can become uncomfortable in hot weather.
They are used by musicians are high-fidelity models designed to deal with potentially harmful levels of sounds. Instead of muffling out all sounds, these plugs attenuate sound evenly to prevent overexposure to loud volume levels. This way, sound remains clear, but the volume simply gets attenuated to a lower level.
Swimming earplugs prevent water from entering the ear canal. This helps lower the chance of infection and the condition called swimmer’s ear. Swimming earplugs can also filter noise to the extent where they don’t muffle all sound but let you hear important bits. Think of how handy that becomes during races or other swimming events.
Another situation where people prefer to wear plugs is while traveling by air. Changes in air pressure during ascent and descent can cause discomfort in the inner ear and wearing earplugs at these times can help minimize the uneasiness.
And then of course, there’s sleeping. Many people want to muffle out night-time noises for a better sleep experience and earplugs offer to do just that. Quality earplugs are not hard to come by and they are relatively inexpensive too. You can definitely sleep better when using earplugs.
Different types of earplugs
Because the situations demanding plugs vary, so does their type. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all. Plus, ears vary from one person to the next. While most brands offer standard-sized earplugs, some others will also have smaller sizes, or even kid’s sizes.
If you have any medical concerns about ear issues, you may be better off using one type of earplugs than another. In such cases, it’s better to get advice from a doctor.
You can look at different materials, corded or without cords and even custom-made earplugs to suit your needs. Some of the different types of earplugs include the following options:
Disposable, single-use earplugs are otherwise known as foam earplugs. The least expensive types, these are worn by squeezing and rolling into shape and then inserted into the ear. Once inserted, they expand gently and mold to the ear to offer a barrier against noise.
Foam plugs are portable, simple-to-use and easily available. But they don’t always provide even frequency attenuation. And there is always the risk of infection given their porous material.
Reusable, pre-molded earplugs are popular as they reduce waste and are washable to be re-used. Most come with flanges to create a seal against the ear canal for noise prevention. These earplugs are easy-to-use and don’t really require any custom fitting. Get them easily off-the-shelf and reuse, taking care to keep them clean.
Custom-made earplugs are the most expensive type and are often task specific. Musicians, shooters, swimmers and others who use earplugs fairly regularly may want to get a pair tailored to their individual ears specifically.
Detectable earplugs are a special category of plugs where the piece contains a metal material in their construction. This helps locate the earplug by an X-ray machine or magnetometer. This type is mostly used in manufacturing environments, especially food processing facilities where it becomes essential to trace any contaminants entering the production process.
Banded earplugs are another type of plugs where the plugs are held together by a headband. These kind of resemble earmuffs with a band, but have plugs/pods instead making them smaller and less bulky to wear than earmuffs. The convenience factor is the ability to just let them hang around the neck when not in use.
Why choose earplugs with string?
The working mechanism of corded and uncorded earplugs is the same. There is no difference between how much noise protection one or the other offers. But with the stringed varieties you do get the convenience of not losing your earplugs, especially if you need to take them out a lot.
For instance, you may work in a setting where it’s mandatory to wear earplugs, but you also need to talk to and listen to others. So using earplugs with strings will be more helpful.
Travelers will find it handy to have a pair with a cord attached to keep easy track of their earplugs and detectable earplugs are virtually all corded for obvious reasons.
Understandably, you may not want to wear stringed earplugs while sleeping on a bed for the cord can get in the way as you toss and turn. But sleeping upright on a plane is a different story.
Here, corded earplugs will help keep the pair on you, even if one earplug falls out.
Are earplugs safe to use?
Earplugs are generally safe to use anywhere, and most people can wear them tolerably well for longer periods too. However, there is some debate about the safety of earplug use when sleeping.
Many people specifically choose earplugs for sleeping to block out surrounding noises. This is because when compared to other types of sleep aids, earplugs have very few side effects.
Light sleepers, in particular, can benefit from using earplugs for sleeping. But to make good use of them, you need to know exactly how to use them; meaning different types need different instructions.
Foam earplugs, for instance, need to be rolled up into a tight cylindrical shape and inserted halfway into the ear canal. These then expand and shut out unnecessary noise.
Other, cone shaped earplugs don’t expand and only need to be inserted with the smaller end into the ear. Gently push in to tighten.
For people who are frequent users of earplugs for sleeping, there is some concern of the plugs pushing back earwax into the ear. This can cause a buildup to occur which, overtime, can lead to temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.
Such earwax buildup can be removed by a doctor or you can use eardrops to soften it.
Another potential side effect is the possibility of ear infections. With regards to earplug use, one cause could be earwax buildup while another could be bacterial growth on earplugs. That’s why it’s important to keep your re-usable earplugs in a clean condition at all times.
When earplugs that are overused and not cleaned properly collect earwax deposit, they can become rigid which tends to strain the ear canal. Sometimes users may experience discomfort or outright pain because of this.
But if you do a good job of maintaining ear hygiene and cleaning your earplugs thoroughly after every use, you should be okay to sleep with earplugs. Of course, it’s always recommended to go for regular checkups with your doctor.
Which types are best for sleeping?
When it comes to plugs for ears, you’ll find vented and non-vented varieties. While the type you use for flying or scuba diving can make a significant difference (with vented varieties able to equalize ear pressure) what you use for sleeping won’t really matter that much.
Instead, you can look at which material you’re most comfortable using and can maintain easily.
How to choose the best plugs?
Many manufacturers make PPE and other ear protection gear that can be purchased from several suppliers. If you don’t have a preferred supplier, you can always get some ideas from coworkers, friends and other peers or look for online reviews to gauge performance.
How to clean your plugs?
Keeping your earplugs, reusable or custom-made kind, clean is very important for ear hygiene and hearing protection. Here is how to use can get the most out of your purchase by keeping your earplugs clean.
- Fill a bowl with warm water and a mild soap. Mix well to distribute soap.
- Place earplugs in water making sure that they get completely submerged. If they start to float, hold them down by hand.
- Let soak for a few minutes.
- Wipe or scrub plugs while submerged. You can use your hands to do so, or use a soft bristle brush. Do not use any abrasive material.
- Once clean, rinse and dry the earpieces. Use a paper towel to remove excess moisture and let air dry until the earplugs are completely dry.
- Place in clean storage case and put away until the next use.
- Regularly used plugs should be washed after every 2-3 uses.
- Infrequently used ones should be washed after every use, to prevent bacterial growth while they are stored away.
- Only use mild cleaners, avoiding those with harsh chemicals.
- Never put damp or moist plugs in a storage case.
- To disinfect, use a spray bottle to spray the plugs with rubbing alcohol. Let air dry and then store in case.
- Disinfect frequently used plugs every week or if you sweat a lot while wearing them.
- Disinfect less used earplugs after every few uses.
Maintaining your earplugs
- First off, getting good quality plugs will help. The durability of the piece will offer some degree of guarantee that it won’t weather away due to frequent cleaning and washing. So, always start with a quality product.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning the earplugs carefully. Sometimes, they may instruct you to use specific cleaning agents, or stay away from others, to preserve the longevity of your earplugs. Do keep cleaning instructions as specified in mind.
- Most reusable earplugs can be washed with mild soap and water after each use. If your model has flanges, take care to clean around this area carefully.
- Know the time to buy new plugs. Even though labelled reusable, earplugs won’t last forever. It all depends on how often you use them and how well you clean and store them.
- If you see any signs of wear and tear, damage, discoloration or even stiffness, then it’s time to get a new pair.
- Always store earplugs in a case when not in use.
Earplugs, whether they come with or without a string, offer essentially the same performance. What makes corded varieties more suitable for some situations is the ability to hang on to the earplugs in case one falls out. Otherwise, they both need the same kind of care and maintenance to add to their longevity.
If you found this article helpful, then don’t hesitate to share it with others looking to decide what kind of earplugs to look for. If we missed out something, comment on that as well and let us know your thoughts on earplug use.