One of the simplest steps you can take to protect your ability to hear is to use earplugs. 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.

First of all, figure out how much noise reduction you need from your ear plugs. Ear plugs are labelled with a noise reduction rating (NRR) to indicate how much noise they are able to block. Better quality ear plugs will have NRR’s between 21 and 33. 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.

Next, take some time to consider the composition of the plugs you are considering. Foam ear plugs are made from a type of memory foam that is inserted into the ear canal. The foam is compressed during insertion then expands to plug the canal. Silicone ear plugs differ from foam in that they are molded over the outside of the ear canal. Both foam and silicone ear plugs need to be replaced periodically.

Lastly, evaluate whether you’d be better served with non-disposable, custom ear plugs. While foam and silicone ear plugs are great for casual use, certain professions and situations warrant investing in specialized ear plugs. If you are a musician who is constantly exposed to loud music, you may want to look into custom-made, non-disposable earplugs. Because these plugs are custom made to fit your ear, they will block out dangerous noise while still allowing you to hear the music you are making.

A totally different use of ear plugs is to block out a partner’s snoring while sleeping. You can find ear plugs that are specifically designed to block out snoring without keeping you from hearing your fire alarm and alarm clock. When comparing ear plugs for sleeping, be sure to test them out with your head tilted sideways. 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.