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Earplugs - what types are there?

Updated on February 7, 2009

There is quite a choice available when it comes to earplugs, but they can be put into three main categories: foam, filtered generic fit and filtered custom fit earplugs. In this article, we talk about the pros and cons of the different types.

Foam earplugs


Foam earplugs are available as single use or reusable earplugs. They are designed to fit into the ear canal and create a seal which block out external noise.


Often they need to be rolled into a thin sausage shape before they can be inserted into the ear, although pre-shaped earplugs are available.


Once the plugs are inserted they expand to fit the shape of your ear. Foam earplugs are inexpensive and very easy to get hold of, most hardware stores and pharmacies have them in stock.


There are some limitations to foam earplugs; around 50% of people that should wear them don’t for the following reasons. Firstly, foam earplugs reduce high frequency sound much more than in the mid to low frequencies, which is why we often find it difficult to hear other people talking when we have them in.


In addition, foam earplugs are available in a one size fits all model, but because our ears come in different shapes and sizes, many people complain that foam earplugs are uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.


Finally, foam earplugs seem only to be available in garish fluorescent colours, which is fine if you work in industry where everyone else is wearing them, or even at home where you may only have to wear them for short periods of time.


However, if you are a fashion conscious type you’ll soon find that orange fluorescent plugs don’t go so well with your clubbing clobber, so you may be tempted to look around for a more discreet alternative. In short, foam earplugs are fantastic if:

* You aren’t worried about sound quality or the need to communicate with other people

* You only need to wear them for short periods of time, i.e. for gardening, DIY or industrial use

* You aren’t worried about looking fashionable.


Generic fit filtered earplugs


The generic fit (one size fits all) filtered earplugs are reusable and last for around 3-6 months, depending on how much you use them.

They are a great inexpensive earplug and are designed to offer even attenuation (noise reduction) across all frequencies.

Generic fit earplugs closely replicate the ear's natural frequency response. The earplugs reduce sound levels by 16dB while minimising high frequency roll-off, which means that everything sounds the same just quieter.

The earplugs are easy to insert into the ear and are easily cleaned, which reduces the risk of ear infections. These earplugs are also much more discreet than the foam earplugs, which may appeal to you if you are interested in wearing them at social events.

These filtered earplugs were initially designed for musicians, for whom fidelity of sound is especially important. However, they are suitable for clubbing, sports events and industrial noisy environments.

One main disadvantage of these earplugs is that they are a generic fit product and may not fit everyone’s ears perfectly. One company, Etymotic Research, have bought out an earplug designed to fit people with smaller ear canals which reduce any discomfort.

The ER-20 earplug is available in a standard size and as the baby blue model for the smaller ear canal. These earplugs are great if you want them for occasional use or to wear for short periods. If you need to wear earplugs for long periods of time, you may find that custom fit earplugs are more suitable for you.

In short, filtered earplugs are fantastic if:

* High fidelity sound is important or you need to communicate with others • You only need to wear them for short periods of time

* You are looking for a more discreet earplug


Custom made filtered earplugs


Custom earplugs are designed for your ear and are made with medical grade silicon, so are extremely comfortable. The comfort factor is especially important if you need to wear earplugs for long periods of time.

Custom earplugs are fitted with filters, which give a more even attenuation (or noise reduction) over all frequencies compared to foam earplugs. This means you can still hear sounds as normal but at a much reduced volume.

There are different filters available to suit the environment in which you need the earplugs for. For example, if you’re a music industry professional, you can choose from three attenuation levels - the 9 dB filters are suitable for vocalists, the 15 dB filters are suitable for woodwind players and the 25 dB filters are suitable for drummers.

In a similar way, if you are a professional in noisy industries such as mining, construction and manufacturing, you can choose the correct filters based on where you work and what machinery you work with.

This means that you can get the right level of hearing protection without under- or overprotecting your hearing.

As custom earplugs are made to fit every lump, bump and groove of your ear, this means that your earplugs can’t be worn incorrectly. They are easy to insert and easy to clean.

The main disadvantage of custom earplugs is they are more expensive than the other options mentioned. This is mainly because there is a lot more work involved in the process.

For example, you need to go to an Audiologist to get impressions made of your ear and the custom earplugs are hand crafted to ensure a perfect fit. Most custom fit earplugs are designed to last for over four years so when you consider that:

* You can wear them all day, every day in complete comfort

* You can choose the level of attenuation to suit the environment in which you work

* You can hear sounds clearly as if you weren’t wearing earplugs at all

You may decide they worth every penny!


Where can I learn more about custom earplugs?


Learn more about custom earplugs by reading this article “How do custom earplugs work?”


Different types of earplugs

Foam earplugs
Foam earplugs
Generic fit (One size fits all) earplugs (ER-20)
Generic fit (One size fits all) earplugs (ER-20)
Custom earplugs (Elacin ER-series)
Custom earplugs (Elacin ER-series)

Earplugs - what types are there?


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    • profile image

      Johne602 3 years ago

      Write more, that's all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what you're talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your weblog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? eakdegefcdde

    • profile image 5 years ago

      what is the minimum and maximum time to wear ear plugs?