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Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re subjected to loud noises, say running a lawnmower in your yard, going to an arena to see your favorite band play, or simply sleeping in your own bed beside a snoring spouse, earplugs can be helpful. In the first two circumstances, they can assist in protecting your hearing by decreasing the volume. They assist in saving your peace of mind and possibly even your relationships, in the last case, by letting you get a good night’s sleep. But are these ear protectors, really, injuring your hearing?

Why Utilize Earplugs at All?

It’s a pretty simple case for wearing earplugs: When used properly, earplugs can limit your exposure to extreme sound levels and thereby protect your hearing. Perhaps you’ve observed that your hearing sounds different after you leave a loud venue, say, a football game with a loud crowd, and you might also have symptoms of tinnitus. This occurs because those extremely loud noises can actually bend the tiny hair cells in your inner ear. In a day or two, when the hairs have recovered, it usually goes back to normal.

But if you’re exposed to high decibels frequently, say you work on a construction site or at an airfield, the aural assault on those tiny hair cells is unrelenting. Instead of bending and then recovering, the cells are permanently impaired. There are around 16,000 of those little cells inside each cochlea, but up to 50% of them can be injured or destroyed before your hearing has altered enough for the problem to show up in a hearing assessment.

Is it Possible That Your Hearing May be Damaged by Earplugs?

With all that, you’d think that using earplugs would be a no-brainer in terms of protecting your hearing. But particularly if you’re in scenarios where you’re subjected to loud noises every day (like on the job or when your spouse snores as mentioned), over-the-head earmuffs or noise-reducing (but not completely blocking) headphones are a smarter option. Earplugs are better suited to one-off situations like a concert or sporting event than for everyday use.

Why? For one, earwax. Your ears generate wax to protect themselves, and if you’re always wearing earplugs, more earwax will be produced, and you’ll probably push it in with the plugs. Tinnitus and other concerns can be the result of impacted earwax.

An ear infection can be another concern for people who wear earplugs. If you continually wear the same pair, and you fail to clean them properly from use to use, they can become bacteria traps. Ear infections are, at the very least, an uncomfortable inconvenience. If left untreated, in the worst situations, they can trigger an ear infection.

How Can You Safely Use Earplugs?

Earplugs nevertheless have a strong upside, whether it’s safeguarding your hearing or getting a peaceful night’s sleep. You just need to be sure you’re using the right kind and using them in the right way. The porous material of foam earplugs is a germ haven so it’s a helpful thing that they are the least expensive. Silicone or wax earplugs are reusable, but you have to keep them sanitized, use warm water and mild soap to cleanse them, and don’t put them back in your ears until they’re thoroughly dry. Buildup of moisture can cause mold and bacteria so store your earplugs in a well ventilated place.

You may want to contact us about custom fit earplugs if you need or want them frequently. These are made from unique molds of your ears, they can be reused and since they’re fitted to your ears, their comfortable. Again though, to prevent any possible hearing problems, it’s important to practice good earplug hygiene!