Which earplug for when?

Surely earplugs should be recognised as one of the most simple, useful, and versatile ‘devices’ ever invented.

We’re not talking about fancy noise-cancelling headphones here, just well designed, good fitting earplugs that can help in four main ways:

  • To prevent damage to hearing
  • To keep water out of ears
  • To block or minimise unwanted sounds
  • To help with relieving pain in flying


Hearing loss or damage can be the result of a single, very loud sound, (e.g. gunshot, explosion or firecracker), or it can be caused by repeated exposure to loud noises over time. The louder the noise the shorter the period of time until damage occurs.1

You might be surprised how loud everyday noises are.

Sound is measure in decibels, usually abbreviated to dB. A normal conversation is around 60dB, whereas city traffic, when sitting inside a car, is usually in the range of 80-85dB – except when one of those really annoying loud motorcycles passes (about 95dB).1

While the difference between 60dB and 70dB may not seem much, decibels are based on logarithmic scale (increasing exponentially). Which means that 70dB will be 10 times more intense than 60dB.1 Sounds above 85dB can cause hearing damage after 2 hours of exposure, so if you’re mowing the lawns with a petrol or 2 stroke mower, you should be wearing ear protection.1

You should choose good quality earplugs when operating machinery. In Europe and Australia, earplugs are given an SNR rating*. A product with an SNR of 30 will reduce up to 30dB of noise exposure.2 So, if you’re mowing lawns, an earplug with SNR of 30 or more will help shut out noise to conversation level.

*You may see the US rating of NRR. There is no exact formula to convert, but SNR values tend to be about 3dB higher – so NRR of 25 will equal SNR of 28.2

Keeping water out of ears

Whether it’s from swimming or showering or an unexpected delivery of water to your ear via a hose (it happens), water in the ear that doesn’t drain naturally is unpleasant. More importantly, trapped water can lead to an ear infection.3

Earplugs can be a great preventative solution here – but make sure you choose carefully. They’ll need to fit snugly and be designed to be used in the water. Foam earplugs used to suppress noise will probably not work well for swimming.

Rather, choose earplugs that can be moulded to the individual shape of your ear, and specifically designed for swimming. Earplugs made from medical grade silicone fulfil both those requirements. Natural Beeswax earplugs are also useful.

Blocking other unwanted sounds

In addition to loud traffic or machinery noise, some people have problems with noisy neighbours, snoring partners, or they’re working nightshift and need an undisturbed sleep during the day.

Once again, earplugs can help, and choosing the right type of earplugs is also important. You’ll be wearing these earplugs for 7-8 hours overnight, so they need to be comfortable and fit well. Importantly, they need to reduce the noise caused by the offending snorer, but from a safety point of view, you still need to be able to hear smoke detectors or other alarms.

Some earplugs (like Otifleks GoodSleep and LadyBuds) have been specifically designed for sleep, with an SNR of 30-33 – great for blocking a loud snore without compromising your ability to hear an alarm.

Ear pain during flying

Ear pain during flying, also known as airplane ear, is caused by an imbalance of air pressure between the outer ear and middle ear, which puts stress on your eardrum. You may have even experienced your ears ‘popping’ as your drive up a mountain. This is also caused by the sudden change in atmospheric pressure4 – the same effect as an aeroplane cabin pressurising and de-pressurising on take-off and landing.

There are a number of things that can help alleviate the pain – check out this article for some great tips.

Earplugs can help to slowly equalise the pressure during ascent and descent4. Those specifically designed for flight will be your best option. They incorporate filters that react to pressure changes. Look for ones that soften with body heat for better comfort on those long trips such as the Otifleks Flier Earplugs.

As we said at the start, earplugs are very useful and versatile invention.

If you’re looking for protection for your ears from noise or water, or something to help you get a restful sleep, you’ll find something in the Otifleks range. Check them out here.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/hearing_loss/what_noises_cause_hearing_loss.html
  2. https://www.headphonesty.com/2020/02/noise-reduction-rating-explained/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-get-water-out-of-your-ear#_noHeaderPrefixedContent
  4. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/airplane-ear/symptoms-causes/syc-20351701



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