In Tune with Excellent Service

What Kinds of Earplugs Are the Most Comfortable?

a pair of standard ear plugs

Earplugs are a form of hearing protection that you insert directly into the ear canal, a bit like earphones. Earplugs should not be confused with earmuffs, an over-the-ear device. The purpose of earplugs is to block out loud noises, help with sleep, and, in some cases, protect the sensitive middle ear from sudden changes in pressure (such as when on an aircraft).

But what kinds of earplugs are there? And which are the most comfortable?

The types of earplugs

Earplugs are made of a variety of materials which may have different applications.

Foam earplugs

Foam earplugs are made of a type expandable, petrochemical-derived foam that expands to fill the ear canal. Foam earplugs are exceptionally cheap to manufacture, costing just a few cents per pair, making them great for worksites, or people who only need to use hearing protection on occasion.

Most foam earplugs come in a standard cone shape, although some manufacturers have developed more ergonomic styles. Foam earplugs have among the highest noise reduction rating of any earplug material, typically scoring around 33 dB.

These earplugs are ideal for people who need a high level of noise reduction as well as those who like the shape of cylindrical earplugs.

Wax earplugs

Despite being slightly more expensive than foam earplugs, many people prefer the wax variety because of how it fits securely in the ear canal and forms a tight seal. Wax earplugs, however, are not as widely available and you may have to seek out relatively unknown manufacturers to find a suitable pair.

Wax earplugs, in general, do not offer as high a level of hearing protection as their foam counterparts, with NRRs in the range of 20 to 25. These earplugs are best suited for people who need a moderate level of noise reduction to help them sleep (such as canceling out the noise of street traffic).

Silicone earplugs

Silicone is something of a wonder material, used for everything from cookware to implants. Silicone is also an excellent option for people who want to block out unwanted noise.

The primary benefit of silicone earplugs is “moldability;” the ability to conform to the shape of the ear canal. Silicone earplugs can also provide protection against sudden changes in pressure, such an on an airplane. Unlike other materials, manufacturers can mold silicone into cone-like shape with concentric rings to protect the eardrum and middle ear from air pressure variation.

Silicone tends to be slightly more expensive than foam but offers a reassuring feel. It’s also not as good at blocking out noise, with a typical NRR of around 22. However, again, silicone may be sufficient for people wanting to block out noise while trying to sleep at night.

Which material is deemed to be the most comfortable?

Which particular variety of earplug material you find most comfortable depends on your specific preferences. However, in general, silicone and wax are better tolerated by the majority of wearers.

Foam plugs provide excellent noise cancellation, but some people may find them uncomfortable. Foam is coarser than the other materials we’ve discussed so far and exerts more pressure on the ear canal during use. Some people may also experience pain or discomfort after wearing them for more extended periods, say more than two hours, caused by the constant pressure on both the ear canal and sometimes, the eardrum.

Some manufacturers have attempted to make foam earplugs more comfortable by changing the shape of the plug and using different foam formulations. However, for the cheapest variety, you may find that they cause irritation or discomfort if worn regularly.

Silicone and wax earplugs are comfortable and feel soft on the ear. Just like foam earplugs, however, they will create a feeling of “fullness” in the ears, which may take some getting used to for some people.

If comfort is still a problem, you can buy silicone earplugs of varying sizes, depending on your ears. If a silicone earplug feels uncomfortable, it could be because it is too large: you can often get the same degree of noise-cancellation for smaller devices.

Choosing the most comfortable earplugs can be a challenge, so it’s best to trial a few different types before settling on the one you like or concluding that you can’t wear them. You may find that wax or silicone earplugs offer you sufficient hearing protection at tolerable comfort levels.

If you want more information about which kinds of earplugs are the most comfortable, get in touch with Grace Hearing and Language Services today at 770-485-3522.