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To protect your ability to hear, begin with the basics – ear plugs. These small devices are inserted into the ear to block out disruptive or damaging sounds. Shopping for ear plugs can be confusing, as there are a large variety of styles available, but with patience and a little bit of know-how you can find the plug for you.

Start by assessing the amount of noise dampening you require. Every plug has a noise reduction rating (NRR) that signifies the amount of noise it cancels out, with the best quality ear plugs ranging from 21 to 33 decibels. Figure out where and when you will use your ear plugs. Ear plugs with a lower NRR are sufficient for blocking out traffic noise or your roommate’s TV while studying. However, if your profession requires you to spend time around loud equipment or music, a higher rating is more appropriate.

The composition of your ear plugs is another important factor to consider. Foam is one of the most basic materials used in ear plugs. These plugs are compressed as they are inserted, then expand to plug the ear. Silicone ear plugs differ from foam in that they are molded over the outside of the ear canal. Both types of plugs are disposable.

Finally, consider the situation that you need the ear plugs for. A simple foam or silicone plug will suffice in many circumstances; however, there are specialized plugs available for specific environments. If you are a musician who is constantly exposed to loud music, you may want to look into custom-made, non-disposable earplugs. Musician plugs are custom fitted and designed to allow the artist to hear themselves while blocking out harmful noise around them.

If you have a partner who snores, you may be shopping for earplugs to wear while you are sleeping. Ear plugs for sleeping are fairly advanced. They are able to block out the sounds of snoring while permitting you to hear your alarm clock or fire alarm. Take time to test out the plugs with your head tilted to the side. This simulates the changes that take place in your ear canal while lying down, helping you determine whether the plugs will be comfortable while you are sleeping.

Although there are many choices of ear plugs, a little advanced planning will help you narrow in on the ideal pair.