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Choosing the best hearing protection

Last update on Jun, 15, 2021

You may not spend much time thinking about hearing protection, let alone the best ear protection out there for certain activities. However, it may be more important than you think. Let’s say you spend the morning mowing the lawn, then swimming laps at the local pool. After fueling up with lunch, you head to the park pavilion for an orchestral performance.

You may not realize it, but you’ve just participated in three activities that can threaten the health of your hearing.

What's the best way to protect your ears and your hearing health in those situations? Two words: Hearing protection. By wearing proper protection, you can save your hearing while still enjoying your favorite hobbies or profession.

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Types of hearing protection

Hearing protection reduces the amount of sound that gets transmitted to the middle and inner ear. The amount of sound reduced, measured in decibels (dB), is called acoustic attenuation.


All hearing protection should clearly indicate its attenuation level or noise reduction rating (NRR). Attenuation levels range from 0-30 dB. The best hearing protection will lower total noise exposure to below 85 dB.


Disposable ear plugs are typically made of soft, pliable foam. They are rolled by hand into a thin tube then placed in the ear canal, where they expand to form a seal.

Pros of disposable earplugs:

  • Very affordable
  • Widely available online and in stores
  • Ready to wear (no custom or medical fitting required)
  • Low maintenance; simply toss after each use

Cons of disposable earplugs:

  • Must be rolled and placed carefully to ensure proper seal
  • Hands must be washed/clean prior to handling them (to avoid dirt or germs entering the canal)
  • Must be replaced after each use, as the foam absorbs much oil/dirt
  • Must continually remember to restock your supply 

Reusable plugs are made of flexible silicone or rubber and come pre-molded to fit the ear. Commonly flanged or cone-shaped, these plugs come in multiple sizes to accommodate different wearers. Some styles are joined by a cord or headband. 

Pros of reusable earplugs:

  • Available in a variety of sizes
  • Washable and reusable
  • Easy to insert/remove

Cons of reusable earplugs:

  • Must be washed, rinsed and (fully) dried after each use
  • Don’t expand or mold to the ear
  • Must be replaced periodically 


Earmuffs resemble stereo headphones, as they’re designed to go completely over the outer ear. The cushioned muffs are filled with foam or liquid and connected by an adjustable headband.

Pros of earmuffs:

  • Reusable
  • Avoid the “plugged up” feeling of ear plugs
  • Available in various sizes/styles
  • Ready to wear (no custom or medical fitting required)
  • Can be combined with earplugs for additional protection
  • Some styles are equipped with Bluetooth technology

Cons of earmuffs:

  • Can feel hot and heavy over time
  • Must be routinely cleaned and aired out
  • Helmets, hats and glasses can obstruct proper seal
  • Less portable
  • More expensive

In terms of comfort and confidence in proper sound protection, it’s hard to beat custom-fit earplugs/molds. They’re specially made to fit the unique shape of your ear canal. While the initial investment is higher, custom-molded earplugs are designed to last several years.

Did you know?

Miracle-Ear offers a variety of custom hearing protection options for hunting, swimming, air travel and more.

Pros of custom-molded earplugs:

  • Extremely comfortable
  • Last several years
  • Highly effective (due to their custom fit)
  • Various styles available to suit specific activities

Cons of custom-molded earplugs:

  • Higher cost up front
  • Require custom mold fitting
  • Must be routinely cleaned 
Woman woodworking wearing ear protection

Learn how to protect your ears

What is loud? Learn about prevention and discover the decibel chart guide to hearing safety.

Best hearing protection for different environments

Rifles, shotguns and pistols can fire off sounds as loud as 140-175 dB—much higher than the 85 dB threshold considered safe for our ears.

Worried that protection will hinder your ability to hear approaching game or others’ voices? Many modern hearing protection devices can block harmful, high-decibel noise without affecting your ability to hear quieter sounds:

  • Electronic hearing protectors amplify quieter sounds to a safe level, but then shut off and transform into hearing protectors in the presence of loud sounds. They’re available in many styles, including earmuffs, behind-the-ear devices and custom-molded earplugs.
  • Nonlinear, or level-dependent, hearing protectors allow soft-to-moderate sounds to pass through with little to no attenuation. High-decibel sounds are then reduced by means of filters or mechanical valves. (Filters are probably better, as valves may not close fast enough to protect from sudden impulse noise.)

Boating and other outdoor recreation can damage your ears, too. Learn more about protecting your hearing while shooting and how two competitive fishermen approach hearing health.

Laps at the local pool can ramp up your risk of getting water trapped in the ear canal, leading to mild irritation (at best) or increasingly painful, itchy ears (at worst)—also known as swimmer’s ear. Learn more about swimmer’s ear.

The best ear protection for swimming? Custom-molded earplugs. By going custom, you can ensure a proper, tight seal so water won’t leak in.

Did you know a trombone can blast sounds as loud as 114 dB? So can live concerts. That’s nearly 20 dB above the recommended limit. No matter which side of the stage you’re on, there’s live music hearing protection available to save your ears without sacrificing sound quality.

Steer clear of standard earplugs, which dampen high-frequency sounds more than the lows and lead to muffled vocals and speech. Look instead for hearing protection that offers a flat, or even, reduction of noise across all frequencies.

Custom-molded ear plugs with specialized filters are a smart choice, as they strike that delicate balance of protection, comfort and preservation of sound quality. Bonus: Many custom plugs are small, discreet and available in transparent colors.

Changing altitudes can make the air pressure in your middle and outer ears out of sync, putting stress on your eardrum and middle ear tissues. This pesky condition is sometimes referred to as "airplane ear." Hearing protection can reduce pressure on the eardrum while also protecting your ears from turbine or engine noise.

While disposable earplugs specifically designed for air travel are available, frequent flyers should probably invest in custom-molded earplugs, as they maximize both comfort and hearing protection.

The high screech of a miter or circular saw can reach 110 dB (or more)—enough to damage your hearing within minutes. The best hearing protection for construction and yard work (such as lawn mowing) depends on several factors: comfort, convenience, communication needs and amount of sound reduction needed.

Earmuffs are easy to take on and off throughout the day, and don’t require clean hands; however, they can get hot and heavy over time, and may interfere with other protection such as eyewear or hard hats. Custom-fit ear molds are a great alternative, as they’re lightweight, discreet and custom-made to ensure a tight seal. They effectively reduce total noise without sacrificing speech comprehension

Best hearing protection for hearing aid wearers

If you’re wondering whether you can wear hearing aids and hearing protection at the same time, the answer is yes. In fact, keeping hearing aids on in noisy environments can help you communicate with others, localize sounds and hear important signals or alarms.

Over-ear hearing protection such as earmuffs work well, as they cover the entire ear and don’t interfere with hearing aid placement. Flat attenuation earmuffs are a good choice, as they reduce noise evenly across the frequency spectrum, resulting in less sound distortion.

If you do prefer to take your hearing aids off, amplification earmuffs are a good option. They amplify softer sounds to a safe level, while reducing louder sounds by 10-20 (or more) dB. 

Couple playing guitar together

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