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Different Types of Ear Protection

Woman with Earplugs

Sound is measured in decibels (dB). The higher the dB, the louder the sound. While conversation may be 50 or 60 dB, a lawn mower can be as loud as 120 dB. Exposure to sounds above 85 dB can damage your hearing. Ear protection reduces decibel levels. Do you know about the different types of ear protection? How about which ones work best in what situations? Here’s a list of several types of ear protection and where they work best.

Disposable earplugs

For many people, this type of ear protection is vital to a good night’s sleep. Disposable earplugs are commonly used by light sleepers to tamp down traffic noise or a partner’s snoring. They’re also useful at loud music events because they don’t completely block out sound. Disposable earplugs are made of soft foam or silicone and come in different shapes, sizes and grades. The most common shape is rounded on one end and flat on the other. To insert foam earplugs, you squeeze the earplug between two fingers and roll it to compress it. Then you insert the earplug into your ear canal (leaving a little bit outside so you can pull it out when necessary). Foam earplugs should only be worn a few times before throwing them away.

Silicone earplugs slide into the ear canal because of their stacked shape. While generally not recommended for sleeping, these earplugs work well at concerts, music events, airshows and other noisy venues. Because these can be cleaned, they may be worn several times before disposal.

The earplugs package indicates a grade that tells you its noise reduction rating. The number indicates a reduction in the decibels (dB) of the noise. For example, if you’re at the movies and the sound is at 90 dB, disposable earplugs with a 33 rating would turn the volume down to around 57 dB.

Custom-fit earplugs

These earplugs can be used over and over because they’re made of a special material that can last from three to five years. A hearing professional takes an impression of your ears and creates the earplugs. There also are at-home kits to make the molds and earplugs. If you use earplugs on a regular basis, these may be worth the cost because they’re comfortable and washable. Daily cleaning with some hydrogen peroxide or soap and water and a small brush keeps them in good shape.


If you’re exposed to loud noises for specific periods of time, earmuffs will block those loud noises. They’re also very useful for bursts of loud noise, such as at a shooting range. Because they’re bulky, they’re not meant to be worn for long periods of time. However, earmuffs work well to block noise while mowing the lawn, working with power tools or sports such as motocross or snowmobiling.

When you know the different types of ear protection available, you’re better equipped to avoid hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises.

Talk more with an audiologist to determine which ear protection type is the best for your specific needs. The audiologist will take into account your hobbies, occupation and exposure to loud noises.