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An earplug is a device that is meant to be inserted in the ear canal to protect the user's ears from loud noises or the intrusion of water, foreign bodies, dust or excessive wind.
Some earplugs are primarily designed to keep water out of the ear canal, especially during swimming and water sports. This type of earplug may be made of wax or moldable silicone which is custom-fitted to the ear canal by the wearer.
Exostosis, or Surfer's ear, is a condition which affects people who spend large amounts of time in water in cold climates. In addition, wind may increase the prevalence of the amount of exostosis seen in one ear versus the other dependent on the direction it originates from and the orientation of the individual to the wind. Custom-fitted surfer's earplugs help reduce the amount of cold water and wind that is allowed to enter the external ear canal and, thus, help slow the progression of exostosis.
A 2003 study published in Clinical Otolaryngology found that a cotton ball saturated with petroleum jelly was more effective at keeping water out of the ear, was easier to use, and was more comfortable than wax plugs, foam plugs, EarGuard, or Aquafit.
Jacques-Yves Cousteau warned that earplugs are harmful to divers, especially scuba divers. Scuba divers breathe compressed air or other gas mixtures at a pressure matching the water pressure. This pressure is also inside the ear, but not between the eardrum and the earplug, so the pressure behind the eardrum will often burst the eardrum. Skin divers have less pressure inside the ears, but they also have only atmospheric pressure in the outer ear canal. The PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) advises in the "Open Water Diver Manual" that only vented earplugs designed for diving should be used in diving.
There are mainly four types of earplugs for hearing protection:
NIOSH Mining Safety and Health Research recommends using the roll, pull, and hold method when using memory foam earplugs. The process involves the user rolling the earplug into a thin rod, pulling back on the ear, and holding the earplug deep in the canal with the finger. To get a complete seal, the user must wait about 20 to 30 seconds for the earplug to expand inside the canal.
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