Health hazards from earplugs

Written by liza blau
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Health hazards from earplugs
Several health hazards exist for regular wearers of earplugs. (Earplug image by lefebvre_jonathan from Fotolia.com)

Earplugs are small devices worn in the ear canal to protect the wearer from sound, debris, water or excessive wind. Three common types of earplugs are foam, silicone and flanged. Foam earplugs are squeezed and inserted into the ear canal, which creates a soft plug. Silicone earplugs are rolled into a ball and fitted over the outer part of the ear canal, forming a tight seal. Flanged earplugs are the plugs of choice for most musicians and others exposed to loud sounds. Although earplugs are generally safe, they also carry some hazards.

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Air Pressure Build-Up

Wearing earplugs can cause excessive air pressure to build inside the ear and push against the eardrum, causing earaches. The air pressure may increase while you're lying down or when you push earplugs too far down the ear canal. Gently jiggle the earplugs out of your ears, rather than roughly yanking them out, to avoid pulling the eardrum and creating more negative pressure. According to Jacques-Yves Cousteau in his book, "The Silent World," wearing earplugs underwater can trap air between them and the eardrums. This creates a dangerous build-up of pressure inside the Eustachian tubes, expanding the eardrums and potentially causing them to burst.

Ear Canal Blockages

Earplugs can push debris and earwax deep inside the ear canal and against the eardrum, causing blockages. A blocked ear canal can contribute to hearing loss, infection, discharge or tinnitus. If your earplugs become lodged too deep inside the ear canal, a physician may need to remove them. Always position earplugs so you can easily reach and rotate them. Clean your earplugs regularly with mild soap and water to remove any accumulated wax or debris. Do not wash foam earplugs, as they will lose their shape and no longer fit properly. Foam earplugs are designed to be disposable.

Ear Pain

Earplugs may irritate the temporomandibular joint, which is located near the ear canal, resulting in soreness and pain. The ear canals may also become painful by the constant repetition of inserting and removing the plugs. Since foam earplugs expand inside the ear canal, they are often the biggest culprits in causing pain.

Ear Inflammation

Earplugs can sometimes even cause ear inflammation. Plugs that don't fit correctly or are too hard can scratch, tear or irritate the skin inside the ear canal, causing bacteria to grow and result in possible infections.

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