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Custom Ear Plugs

The final blog in our earplug series is all about custom protection. These types of ear plugs are made with the help of an audiologist, and offer the most personalized sound attenuation and fit.

What Makes a Custom Earplug

Customs are created just for you. An audiologist will make an earmold to send to a manufacturer, where it will then be crafted to your specifications and needs. Though the specifics depend on the consumer, most earplugs are made from a silicon, semi-flexible material that fits perfectly into your ear. If you opt for musician’s plugs, each will contain a specialized filter, designed to block out a predetermined amount of noise.

Types

Like reusable plugs, customs come in a few different varieties:

1. Sleep earplugs. These are your everyday types, designed to attenuate a level of noise to help you sleep at night, or travel during the day.

2. Musician’s earplugs. The main difference between these and your baseline plugs are the attenuation levels. Musician’s earplugs tend to preserve the relationship between high and low frequencies, to help you distinguish between different tones.

3. Sport earplugs. Varieties include:

Price and Upkeep

Costs usually range from $100.00 – $200.00*, so a pair is a bit of an investment. Keep in mind, though, that a good pair of custom earplugs can last anywhere from 3 to 5 years, much longer than disposables (single use) and reusables (2-3 months).

To get the most out of your money, you want to be sure to clean your plugs as often as possible. Use a little bit of water and a microfiber cloth or a specialized wipe your audiologist can provide. It’s best not to use alcohol or alcohol swabs.

Process of Making Customs

As we stated above, an audiologist will make an earmold. They will first examine your canal for wax, which they will clear out if necessary. Then they will inject a soft putty into your ear, which will take the shape of your canal as it hardens. Once the putty is removed, a history is taken, questions about specifications are asked, and then everything is sent to the manufacturer who will make the plugs and mail them back to your audiologist, who will make sure the fit is perfect.

For specifics and questions, don’t hesitate to ask your audiologist. They will be more than happy to walk you through your choices.

*Plugs for hunters, due to the mix of amplification technology and noise protection, will run a lot more.

 

Over The Ear (OTE) Ear Plugs

This week we’re continuing our tech spotlight blog series by talking about something a little more niche: over-the-ear (OTE) protection. OTE protection, more commonly known as “ear muffs”, is not something everyone is going to use. They’re big, bulky, and not practical for a lot of daily or social actives. However, for those who work in particularly noisy or messy surroundings, or for those who need a level of professional customization, these are possibly some of the best the tools on the market to help protect your hearing.

OTE Protection

OTE hearing protection can be found online or at your local hardware store. They resemble earphones, and fit completely over your ear. No matter the brand, you can adjust the tightness to your level of comfort.

The rims are cushioned and comfortable, some are sweat resistant, and you can wear them for hours at a time. One popular type is even collapsable for easy storage.

Uses and Advantages

Ear muffs are commonly used by construction workers, hunters, and (with some upgrades) airline pilots. They are portable, require less maintenance than, and have similar NRR ratings to*, reusable in-the-ear plugs.

They are ideal for constant use, and can be easily removed, replaced, and stored. You don’t have to worry about irritation or introducing dirt or debris into your ear canal. Earmuffs are also one size fits all (though some brands offer a range of sizes).

Every now and then, it’s recommended you wipe down the inside with some water (though you won’t need to do this nearly as much as you would with reusable ear protection). Compressed air also helps to clear out any skin flakes that may have gotten trapped inside.

At $10.00 – $20.00 for a standard pair on Amazon, they are relatively inexpensive.

Using with Other Protection

Some people double up and wear ear muffs in addition to disposable or reusable plugs. This can help if you find yourself in an extremely noisy or harsh accoustic environment. Coopersafety.com breaks down how this works in regards to NRR ratings:

“When hearing protectors are worn in combination (i.e. earplugs AND earmuffs), rather than adding the two NRR numbers together, you simply add five more decibels of protection to the device with the higher NRR. For example, using 3M™ E-A-R™ Classic Earplugs (NRR 29) with 3M™ Peltor™ H7 Deluxe Earmuffs (NRR 27) would provide a Noise Reduction Rating of approximately 34 decibels.”

Most people opt for a single set of ear protection, however, whether that’s disposable, reusable, over-the-ear, or custom varieties. Each have their strengths.

Next up: custom ear plugs. (This is where your audiologist comes in to help.)

*Regarding NRR ratings: your base level ear muffs will typically have a lower score than your run of the mill disposable or reusable plug. You can purchase brands, however, with comparable noise valuations.

 

Disposable Ear Plugs

The most popular types of ear plugs, arguably, are the disposable varieties. These are the inexpensive plugs you can find in the drugstore or online, the kind of protection you can pinch, twist, and insert into your canal. Usually they expand completely to fill the space inside, and you’ll toss them after a single use. Most disposable plugs are made of memory foam to match the contours of your ear.

Disposable Plug Uses

Disposable ear protection is ideal for those trying out earplugs for the first time, as backups for more permanent plugs, or for those who are more comfortable sleeping and working with that memory foam-feeling.

Sleepers, especially, gravitate towards the disposables. They tend to block out loud neighbors or ambient noise just enough to allow for rest. While they’re also good for attenuating the noise levels around you, making sure your inner ear isn’t exposed to any loud or constant noise, they also bring down the overall volume of the world to more peaceful levels.

Loud work sites also tend to give out disposable ear plugs to their employees. OSHA outlines the circumstances when ear protection must be used (anything over 85 dBA), and how effective these types of earplugs can be in those situations.

Different Types

There are dozens of brands. Some have a more comfortable fit than others, but most will offer similar levels of protection.

For workplaces or industrial areas, the most popular plug might be the 3M classic pillow pack, which you can find online. These are effective, comfortable, and easy-to-use. Just be careful on insertion. There’s no lip for easy removal, so don’t place too far into your ear canal.

As we get into the other earplug categories in later blogs, we’ll have more specifics and recommendations. For disposables, it’s really up to you and whatever you find the most comfortable.

Earplug Tests

Because there are so many disposable varieties, you can often inadvertently purchase cheap knock-off or defective plugs. So before you settle on a type, buy a few small packs and give them each a test run. If they block out or attenuate to a perceived acceptable level of sound, and you find them comfortable and not painful, then you’re good to go.

If you’re using disposables primarily as protection, it’s also a good idea to get a decibel reader, which you can download for little or no cost to your smart phone. Remember what OSHA says — anything above 85 dB is a potential hazard.

Also be sure that after each use, you throw out your plugs; you don’t want to re-introduce dirt into your canal. Don’t wear them for too long, either. Moisture can easily get trapped in your ear, potentially leading to ear infections.

Disposable earplugs are just the tip of the ear protection iceberg, but they’re an incredibly useful day-to-day tool. Try out a few brands, see what suits your lifestyle, and later on, maybe consider some reusable or custom varieties.