Robby Young's Hearing Aid Center - Coachella Valley, CA

Man using earplugs to protect his hearing before a concert.

If you’re subjected to loud noises, for instance using a lawnmower in your yard, going to a venue to see your favorite band play, or simply sleeping at home next to a snoring spouse, earplugs may be practical. In the first two cases, they can assist in protecting your hearing by turning down the volume. In the last case, they low the sound levels and help save your sanity (and possibly your marriage) by permitting you to get a good night’s sleep. But are these ear protectors, really, causing harm to your ears?

Why Use Earplugs at All?

It’s a pretty simple argument for using earplugs: Properly used, earplugs can limit your exposure to extreme sound levels and thereby protect your hearing. Maybe you’ve noticed that your hearing sounds different after you leave a loud venue, for instance, a football game with a loud crowd, and you may also have symptoms of tinnitus. This occurs because those extremely loud sounds can actually bend the small hair cells inside of your inner ear. It commonly disappears within a couple of days, because the hair cells have recovered.

But if you’re exposed to extreme decibels constantly, for example, if you work on a construction crew or at an airport, the audio assault on those tiny hair cells is constant. In this case, those hairs cannot get better, they are permanently damaged. inside of each cochlea, there are approximately 16,000 of these little hair cells, but up to 50% of them can be ruined or at least injured before you would notice the different in a hearing exam.

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

In terms of protecting your ears, it seems like it would be obvious to make use of earplugs. But particularly if you’re in scenarios where you’re exposed to loud noises all the time (like on the job or with the previously mentioned snoring spouse), headphones that decrease, but don’t completely cancel, sound or over the head earmuffs are a much better idea. Earplugs are better suited to one-off scenarios like a sporting event or concert than for day to day use.

Why? For one, earwax. Your ears produce wax to protect themselves, and if you’re regularly wearing earplugs, they’re going to generate more of it, and you’re likely to jam it in with the plugs. Tinnitus and other issues can be the outcome from impacted earwax.

An ear infection can also result from overuse of earplugs. They can become bacteria traps if you regularly use the same pair without proper cleaning and disinfecting. Ear infections are, at a minimum, a painful annoyance. If left untreated, in the worst instances, they can result in an ear infection.

How Can You Utilize Earplugs Safely?

Whether it’s a restful night sleep or safeguarding your hearing, there’s still a big positive to wearing earplugs. You just need to be sure you’re using the correct kind and utilizing them the proper way. Foam earplugs are the least expensive, which is helpful because you really should not use them more than once, the cushy, porous material is a germ’s paradise. Silicone or wax earplugs are reusable, but you have 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 totally dry. It’s also a good plan to store earplugs in a well ventilated container to discourage moisture, or worse, mold or bacteria, from accumulating.

You may want to get in touch with us about custom fit earplugs if you want or need them on a regular basis. They’re comfortable because they are made from molds of your ears and they are reusable. Again though, to prevent any possible hearing damage, it’s important to practice smart earplug hygiene!

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