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What are Ear Plugs?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ear plugs are devices which are designed to fit into the ear to muffle sound or to protect the ear from substances like water. A wide variety of ear plugs are on the market for an assortment of uses, ranging from protecting the ears of concert musicians to keeping water out of the ears of professional swimmers. Many drugstores sell ear plugs, and they can be a very good thing to keep around the house, because one never knows when ear plugs might be useful.

Ear plugs can be made from foam, plastic, rubber, silicone, and other soft materials. To wear ear plugs, people gently flatten the ear plug by rolling it between their fingers, and then insert the ear plug into the ear, holding it in place while it expands to fill the ear canal. This creates a seal which can muffle noise or keep water and dust out of the ear. When it's time to remove an ear plug, the end is gently pulled down to break the seal, allowing the ear plug to pop out.

Many ear plugs are designed to be reusable. Reusable ear plugs should be periodically replaced, and they should be wiped down after every use to avoid the onset of infections. Single-use ear plugs are also available for disposable applications, like flying in an airplane.

Some people use ear plugs to muffle sound for personal comfort. Light sleepers may wear ear plugs so that they don't have to listen to garbage trucks, barking dogs, loud music, neighbors, or snoring sleeping partners. In these instances, ear plugs are worn for comfort, and to improve sleep. Ear plugs can also be worn by students for studying, or by other people who have trouble focusing in loud environments.

People who work in loud environments wear ear plugs as ear protection, so that they do not incur hearing damage. Many musicians wear ear plugs to perform, protecting themselves from the loud speakers around the stage. People on shooting ranges and in ballistics research facilities also wear ear plugs, as do people who work around loud engines, machinery, construction, and other noisy activities. The ear plugs reduce the decibel level and pressure of the sound, protecting the ear drum.

In addition to isolating the ears from loud sounds, ear plugs also protect the ears from things like water, sand, dust, and other materials which could potentially irritate and infect the ear. Swimmers commonly wear ear plugs, as do people who work in gritty, dusty environments.

It is also possible to ear wear plugs with ear phones, further muffling the sound. On a shooting range, for example, ear plugs may be inserted and then covered with a set of large ear phones, isolating the ears even more. The ear phones can also be used to transmit radio communications or music.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Spotiche5 — On Mar 19, 2014

@talentryto- That is an excellent point, and one that I hadn't thought about as I use ear plugs every night. I'm a light sleeper, and rely on them to get a good night's sleep. But I'm going to check the smoke detector alarm now to make sure I can here it to be on the safe side. Thanks for the tip.

By Talentryto — On Mar 18, 2014

Ear plugs are great tools for people who have trouble sleeping, or wake up because of the slightest noise. However, anyone who uses ear plugs while sleeping should make sure that he or she can still hear the smoke alarm should it go off in the middle of the night.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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