Ear plugs & tinnitus

Written by alice hudson
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Ear plugs & tinnitus
Tinnitus sufferers hear persistent sounds, often a "ringing" sound (ear image by Connfetti from Fotolia.com)

Ear plug use helps to prevent tinnitus, a common disorder that causes sufferers to hear abnormal persistent sounds. Exposure to loud noises for prolonged periods is the most well known cause of the condition. Ear plugs are also used to varying degrees by people who have already developed tinnitus, however while ear plugs may prevent the condition from getting worse, they will not cure it.


According to MedicineNet.com, nearly 36 million Americans suffer from tinnitus to varying degrees. The condition causes sufferers to hear intermittent or constant sounds in their ears, commonly described as ringing, buzzing or humming. In acute cases, tinnitus can lead to hearing loss. While certain medications or stress may bring on tinnitus, it is mainly associated with overexposure to prolonged, excessive noise. Medical proof has shown that ear plugs or ear muffs can lessen the risk of tinnitus developing.

Cochlear Damage

Cochlear damage is the most well-publicised and common cause of tinnitus. The cochlear is the main organ for hearing and is located in the inner ear. Prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause damage to the tiny "hair cells" or microscopic nerve endings of the cochlear that are responsible for picking up sound. Examples of these potentially damaging noises include rock concerts, explosions and heavy machinery. Having an MP3 player up too loud may also cause cochlear damage. Construction workers and musicians are two groups prone to developing tinnitus and associated hearing conditions. Thus, use of high-quality ear plugs is important to prevent tinnitus in such vocations.

Ear Plug Use

According to the American Tinnitus Association (A.T.A), there is no definitive cure for tinnitus. Many tinnitus sufferers wear ear plugs at certain times, (for example at loud events or at bed time) to help alleviate their symptoms. The A.T.A advises tinnitus sufferers to utilise ear plugs, but only in loud situations, and not all the time, as this can cause wax to build up and can actually make the condition worse. Custom-made ear plugs are generally the most comfortable for the wearer. Ear plug wearers should follow the recommendation to use ear drops after ear plug use to reduce any compacted wax.

Workplace Regulation

Ear plugs or ear muffs are important to those wishing to prevent the onset of noise related tinnitus. This especially applies to those whose workplaces are the sources of prolonged loud noises, such as machinery noise or loud music. All workplaces are obliged to follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. Ear plugs or ear muffs guidelines should thus be set in place by employers and adhered to, if the future onset of tinnitus or hearing loss is to be prevented.

Outside of Work

To prevent the possible onset of noise-related tinnitus, those people should wear ear plugs that are around noise that bothers their ears, for example a sporting, music or hunting event. If they do not have ear plugs, they should attempt to move away from the loud noise, if possible. The A.T.A warns that even day-to-day noises such as blow drying hair or mowing a lawn can eventually lead to tinnitus and recommends the use of hearing protection during these activities.


While tinnitus is most commonly associated with exposure to loud noise, in some cases it can be a symptom of another condition. A hearing test (audiogram) can be used to evaluate tinnitus. In situations where people suddenly develop tinnitus, especially if it is only in one ear, they should seek prompt medical advice. In rare cases, it may be associated with a tumour, aneurysm or stroke.

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