References to ear plugs date back to the Odyssey by Greek poet Homer, around the 8th century BC. The crew used wax ear plugs to prevent the alluring sound of the Siren's songs from enchanting them. It is thought that they were then made from either wax, clay or cotton.
Ear Plug Materials
Foam became widely used and the formulation was improved by the National Research base in the US. They were experimenting with resin and discovered one that had interesting energy absorption properties. It turned out to be effective at noise reduction. This material has been further improved into memory foam which expands into the ear canal for a better fit.
Silicone ear versions are balls of silicone which are moulded to fit individual variations. Specialist pairs for musician's are flanged and are specially made for the music industry.
Moulded Ear Plugs
A wide range of moulded pairs exist on the market. Many are available from an audiologist which is costly but recommended as Wikipedia states. "Custom shaped plugs are recommended for long-term use. They are more comfortable and gentle to the skin and won't go too far into the ear canal."
ZenPlugs cost far less than having your plugs made by the audiologist. They have all the same advantages. They are comfortable, effective and last for years. The plugs are antibacterial so are even more effective at keeping ear infections at bay. They are put into warm water to soften before being inserted into the ear where it will mould to the individual shape of your outer ear canal. This gives the advantage of a perfect fit and eliminates the irritation which can be caused when ill-fitting ones are worn.
The crew of Odyssey might have used them to ward off the Siren's song, but what were ancient pairs used for? The most likely usage does not vary from what they are used for today, which is noise reduction and to keep dust and water out of the ears.
Today they are most likely to be used as noise reduction tools for modern noise problems such as:
- Aircraft noise
- Loud music
- Noisy neighbours
- Snoring partners
Barotrauma of the Ear
Preventing barotrauma is another very modern and popular use of ear plugs. This is when unequal pressure develops on both sides of the eardrum and causes blocked and painful popped ears. Ear plugs are known to help prevent barotrauma and are now on many travellers' essential items list.
Whatever you use them for, a modern moulded pair are the comfiest and safest ways to protect your ears.