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Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re subjected to loud noises, for instance using a lawnmower in your backyard, going to a venue to see your favorite band in concert, or merely sleeping in your own bed next to a snoring spouse, earplugs may be helpful. Decreasing the sound level is how earplugs can help in the first two circumstances. In the last case, they reduced the decibels plus help save your peace of mind (and possibly your relationships) by letting you get a good night’s sleep. But are these ear protectors, really, hurting your hearing?

Why Use Earplugs in The First Place?

The case for earplugs is quite simple: Properly used, earplugs can help safeguard your hearing by minimizing your direct exposure to excessive decibel levels. Perhaps you’ve observed that your hearing sounds different after you leave a loud venue, for instance, a football game with a noisy crowd, and you could also experience symptoms of tinnitus. This occurs because those extremely loud sounds actually bend the tiny hair cells inside your inner ear. It commonly disappears within a day or two, because the hair cells have recovered.

But if you’re exposed to excessive decibels frequently, for example, if you work on a construction site or at an airfield, the aural attack on those tiny hair cells is relentless. Instead of bending and then recovering, the cells are damaged permanently. There are about 16,000 of those little cells inside each cochlea, but up to 50% of them can be destroyed or at least injured before you would notice the change in a hearing assessment.

Is it Possible That Your Hearing Could be Injured by Earplugs?

With regards to safeguarding your hearing, you’d think it would be obvious to wear earplugs. But particularly if you’re in situations where you’re subjected to loud noises all the time (like on the job or with the above mentioned snoring spouse), headphones that reduce, but don’t completely cancel, sound or over the head earmuffs are a much better choice. Earplugs are better suited to one-off scenarios such as a concert or sporting event than for day to day use.

Why? The first problem is, earwax. Your ears generate wax to defend themselves, and if you’re frequently using earplugs, more earwax will be generated, and the earplugs will push it in further. This can cause problems such as impacted earwax, which can cause tinnitus and other hearing disorders.

Ear infections can also be the outcome from overuse of earplugs. If you frequently use the same pair, and you don’t clean them between uses, they can become breeding grounds for bacteria. At the very least, ear infections can be a disturbance to your day to day life. If neglected, in the worst situations, they can result in an ear infection.

How Can You Safely Use Earplugs?

Whether it’s a good night sleep or protecting your ears, there’s still a formidable benefit to wearing earplugs. You just need to be sure you’re using the correct kind and using them the proper way. The porous material of foam earplugs is a germ paradise so it’s a good thing that they are the least costly. Wax or silicone earplugs are reusable, but you need to keep them clean, wash them with warm water and mild soap to clean them, and don’t put them back in your ears until they’re thoroughly dry. It’s also a good plan to store earplugs in a ventilated container to discourage humidity, or worse, mold or bacteria, from building up.

You may want to talk to us about custom fit earplugs if you want or need them on a regular basis. These are crafted from unique molds of your ears, they can be reused and because they’re fitted to your ears, comfortable. Again though, to avoid any potential hearing damage, it’s important to practice smart earplug hygiene!

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