Tinnitus Ear Plugs – Will they help stop the noise?
It’s generally accepted that ear plugs should not be worn by tinnitus sufferers solely for relief from tinnitus sounds. However, ear plugs can play an important role in other situations. It’s vital that your hearing is protected in loud environments, such as using earplugs at a concert or earmuffs when shooting. But this is to protect your hearing, rather than stop your tinnitus.
What happens if you use ear plugs for tinnitus symptoms?
Using ear plugs for tinnitus relief will generally have the opposite effect. Tinnitus, by definition, is sound heard without an external source. So while you may think that blocking the ear will stop the noise, this isn’t actually the case. The sound itself is normally a symptom of something else, such as noise induced hearing loss. When you experience a ringing in the ears sensation, it’s actually coming from within the ear and brain itself, rather than an external source.
So rather than stopping the noise, wearing ear plugs may actually make the tinnitus sounds more noticeable. This is because you’ll be blocking out all external sounds. As you can imagine, this can lead to increased frustration with the tinnitus symptoms as they become more noticeable.
Why you shouldn’t use ear plugs for tinnitus
The key thing to understand is that silence can make your tinnitus seem much louder and more apparent. The best way to get around this, is to simply avoid silence or extremely quiet environments.
By increasing the amount of background noise, you can train your brain to divert it’s attention away from the tinnitus. This helps your brain almost “forget” the ringing in the ears you may normally experience.
You can use a variety of techniques to increase background noise. These could include sound therapy and different apps you can control through your phone. It could be natural noises, such as ocean sounds, or it could be colour noise, such as white noise or brown noise. Whatever works best for your tinnitus symptoms.
However, it’s important to keep these background noises at a volume that is less than your tinnitus. This will better help retrain your brain to forget the tinnitus noises, rather than try to completely block it out (which won’t work).
In a completely quiet environment, your brain will try to pick up noises better, including the sounds of your tinnitus. Quiet environments can seem to make your tinnitus worse, especially when you have trouble sleeping in with tinnitus. Sound therapy, background noise and sound generators are extra important at night to help lessen your tinnitus, than trying to use ear plugs and block the noise out.
However, ear plugs don’t make the tinnitus condition worse in severity, but makes it much more noticeable.
Ear plugs for protecting your ears
While it may not be recommended to wear ear plugs for tinnitus, it’s important to look at ear plugs for situations with loud noise. It’s widely understood that exposure to loud noise can cause tinnitus and hearing loss. Protecting your ears in these situations is vital.
The British Tinnitus Association sells various ear plugs, such as their Alpine PartyPlug earplugs. These ear plugs “drops the volume equally across the frequency spectrum so that the sound you hear is reduced to safer levels but without the muffling effect that you experience with standard plugs.” These types of ear plugs are important for parties, concerts, music festivals or clubbing. They also allow you to enjoy music or sound for longer amounts of time while still protecting your hearing.
For £5, you could also buy Plug’em Filter Earplugs from the British Tinnitus Association. These type of ear plugs are memory form and will expand to fit your ears individually.
If you do decide to buy ear plugs for protecting your ears from loud noises, make sure to check the quality of the product. As these will be entering the ear, it’s important that they are designed appropriately.
Ear plugs come in various materials and types to choose from:
Reusable or single use
Foam ear plugs that expand to your ear
Soft silicone or plastic ear plugs
Earmuffs worn externally
Custom-made ear plugs that can be created by your hearing healthcare professional
Generally, ear plugs are beneficial in two common situations: worn when swimming if you have ear-issues or are swimming in dirty water, and situations in loud-noise environments for long periods of time, such as working around heavy machinery, dance clubs, etc. Less common situations that require attention to your hearing are shooting/hunting and flying. It’s a general rule of thumb not to use ear plugs in regular day-to-day situations, such as being at home or working in a quiet office.
Other issues with ear plugs
If you’re going to use ear plugs to protect your hearing from exposure to loud noise, it’s important to understand some associated health risks with it. The main issue with ear plug use is possible earwax build-up. The body naturally uses earwax to protect parts of the inner ear from dust and dirt. However, using earplugs incorrectly could interrupt this process and allow for the earwax to build-up and harden within the ear canal.
This can be uncomfortable and also inhibit sound from reaching the ear properly. To avoid this, it’s important to insert ear plugs gently and follow all provided instructions. You’ll also need to keep your ear plugs clean if they are reusable, or throw them away if they are single-use only. If they are reusable, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on keeping your earplugs clean. Otherwise, they can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to ear infections.
There’s may also be issues if the individual uses to wear ear plugs when sleeping or at home and they are unable to hear alarm noises, such as the fire alarm.
Conclusion on ear plugs
It is not recommended to wear ear plugs simply for tinnitus symptoms. Ear plugs will reduce external noise for the individual and cause the sounds of tinnitus to sound much louder and more prominent.
However, ear plugs are vital to protect your hearing in certain situations, such as a firing range or at a loud concert. Various types of ear plugs are on the market and can help protect your ears from hearing loss or increased tinnitus symptoms from exposure to loud noise.
Quiet Mind is a blog dedicated to turning a critical eye to tinnitus treatments and supplements. So many don’t work and are overhyped, we’re here to shed some light on some of the scams and successful products that claim to stop the ringing.