Are Earplugs Actually Safe to Use?

Whether you’re boarding a long-haul flight or trying to get some sleep next to someone that snores, earplugs can be your best friend. They help block out external noises and distractions allowing you to focus on the task at hand, get some sleep, or even protect your ears from damaging noise levels. Some people even enjoy sleeping with their earplugs overnight, especially if they live in a busy city with lots of on-road noise.

People have uniquely shaped ears and different uses for their earplugs so how do you know if you’re using them correctly or leaving yourself at risk of damaging your ears? We all know the many benefits of using earplugs but are there any risks, and are earplugs actually safe to use? Continue reading to learn about the benefits, potential risks, and the best way to use earplugs so that you maximize all the benefits.

What Are the Benefits and Uses?

If you value a good night’s sleep, earplugs might be the answer you’re looking for. They quiet down external noises helping you drift off to sleep.

Ever find yourself at a concert and over the next couple of days your ears are still ringing? Choose a pair of minimally invasive earplugs to protect your ears, still enjoy your favorite musician, and avoid the headache and ear ringing the next day.

Do your kids have sensitive ears around fireworks or other loud noises? Well, they make child-size earplugs too to help protect their little ears. As you can see there are tons of benefits to using earplugs.

Potential Side Effects

Now that you’re up to speed on the benefits and uses of earplugs, let’s dig into the possible side effects and what to watch out for.

Have a look online as there are so many different shapes, sizes, and materials of earplugs for you to try. The majority of earplugs are inexpensive so don’t be afraid to try out a few different brands and styles to see which is best suited to you and your needs.

Irritating Your Eardrums

It can be difficult to know just how far to stick earplugs into your ear for them to be effective. However, if you insert them too far, you’re at risk of damaging and irritating your eardrum.

Instead, gently roll up the tip of the earplug, pull your ear lobe away from your body and insert the earplug just far enough to block out sound. If you insert them too far, you will feel an immediate discomfort. If this occurs, gently remove them.

Excess Wax Build-up

As you can imagine, if you haven’t cleaned your ears recently, you’re going to have wax buildup in your ear canal. Although this wax is healthy and helps to protect your ear, too much buildup isn’t good.

This becomes an issue when you insert earplugs into your ears and push the wax further down your inner ear canal. This can result in a buildup of wax blocking your ear canal resulting in temporary hearing loss. Make sure that you are carefully cleaning your ears to avoid a wax build-up.

Ear Infections

If you’ve ever experienced an ear infection before you’ll know that they are less than enjoyable and should be avoided at all costs. Whenever you use the same pair of earplugs over and over, earwax is going to naturally build on the tips of your earplugs, allowing bacteria to grow.

This can potentially be harmful as bacteria can result in an ear infection. This typically leads to a very painful ear and in some cases, temporary or permanent hearing loss.

How to Safely Use Earplugs

To avoid the potential side effects listed above and to enjoy all the benefits earplugs have to offer, this is how I recommend using them. Firstly, earplugs are relatively inexpensive so make sure that you pick up a few pairs.

Before you use your earplugs, make sure to gently clean out your ears of excess wax. This helps prevent wax build-up and possible bacteria growth on your earplugs which can lead to infection.

Next, carefully roll the tips of your earplugs and insert them into your ear. Only go as far as to block out sound and not too far where you’re touching the eardrum. This will save you the pain and discomfort from irritating your eardrums.

How to Take Care of Earplugs

Once you remove the earplugs from your ears, it’s best to disinfect them with an alcohol spray or alcohol wipe. This will help destroy the bacteria that starts to build on the tips.

Lastly, dispose of your earplugs as soon as they start to lose their elasticity and shape.

Eric Leckie, PT

Eric Leckie, PT

Eric Leckie is a men's health Physiotherapist specializing in prostate cancer treatment. He completed his studies in Australia earning his Doctor of Physiotherapy from the University of Melbourne. He currently works in a private practice, in addition to owning his own Telehealth Physiotherapy clinic which focuses on treating men with prostate cancer.