Using ear plugs is one of the simplest things you can do to protect your ears from harmful noise levels. When these small devices are inserted into your ear canal, disruptive or dangerous sounds are blocked out. 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.

Start by assessing the amount of noise dampening you require. Take a look at the noise reduction rating (NRR) on the box to find out how much sound it cancels out: better quality plugs have a rating between 21 and 33. Think about where you plan to use your ear plugs. For example, you will find that plugs with a lower NRR will be sufficient if you plan to use them to block out traffic noise while working or studying. However, if your profession requires you to spend time around loud equipment or music, a higher rating is more appropriate.

The composition of your ear plugs is another important factor to consider. 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. You can get away with using a simple silicone or foam plug in many situations, but there are specific plugs made for certain environments. Musicians often wear custom-made, non-disposable earplugs to help protect their hearing while they are performing. These plugs are carefully crafted to fit your ear, allowing you to hear what you are playing while blocking out harmful sounds.

Many people shop for earplugs to wear while sleeping to block out the sound of their partner’s snoring. Look for specialized plugs that will block out the sound of snoring while still allowing you to hear your alarm clock, fire alarm, and other important sounds. Try out these plugs with your head tilted to the side. 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.

If you take the time to really think about what you need your earplugs for, you should not have any problems finding a pair that suits you.