Q&A: Can Ear Plugs Hurt My Ears?

foam ear plugs

Yes in fact, but everyone is different. The ear canals connect the inner ear’s hearing apparatus to the outside world. These ear canals are lined with skin that has sweat glands, hair follicles and wax-producing glands. Many people have a tendency to develop ear canal pain or itching due to inflammation of this skin and the glands that live there.

Keeping the ear canal “plugged” does two potentially harmful things: a) It allows for humidity to accumulate in the ear canal which can promote inflammation and even infection and b) they physically compress the thin ear canal skin which can lead to microscopic physical damage.

We frequently see patients who get a painful “bruised” sensation from even moderately tight-fitting plugs, as well as patients who have recurring ear canal infections from the inadequate ventilation caused by the plug.

Custom iPod earbuds
Custom-made earbud-style for casual music listening may provide less ear canal irritation for the wearer.

Custom-fitted ear molds (“plugs”) can be made by an audiologist that work great for sound suppression and waterproofing the ears. High tech in-ear musician monitors or custom earbuds can also be made. A custom fit is less likely to cause pressure and irritation.

Some patients with recurring ear canal infections are recommended to avoid occlusive ear plugs altogether. “Over the ear” sound protectors and headphones are recommended in that case.