No two ears are the same.
For example, I find it much easier to insert earplugs into my left ear than my right ear.
Somehow my right ear canal is slightly twisted.
I consider myself an experienced earplug user; I have used them for years and I know how to roll them up and insert them.
I have tried perhaps thirty different types of earplugs, including most major brands of foam, wax, and silicone earplugs.
And—I know when an earplug seals my ear and when it doesn’t.
Still, sometimes I need several trials to insert the plug properly into my right ear.
Multiple studies have shown that most people don’t even get close to the noise reduction rating stated on their earplugs. Often people don’t even get half the noise reduction they are expecting.
Lubricated Earplugs Pilot Study by the NIOSH
A couple of weeks ago, I came across a pilot study by the NIOSH in which they had used a lubricant to help with the insertion of foam earplugs.
The study compared normal “dry” insertion of earplugs with “lubricated” insertion. Study participants applied the lubricant to their ear canal openings, rolled up their earplugs, and then applied another drop of lubricant to the earplugs. Then they inserted the earplugs.
The results were quite impressive. On average, participants were getting 5 to 6 dB more attenuation when they used the lubricant.
Even more important, participants that were below the median 23.5 dB for dry insertion, showed a 13 dB improvement on average!
With dry earplugs, about 50% of the participants achieved mastery, while with lubricated earplugs it was 85%.
In other words, with the help of the lubricant almost everyone became a master inserter.
The earplugs used in the study are the popular Howard Leight Max-1, with an NRR of 33.
The lubricant is Oto Ease by Westone, a water-soluble lubricant specifically designed to be used with ear-inserts such as hearing aids and custom molded earplugs.
My Experience using Oto Ease as lubricant for inserting earplugs
I had to try this myself, so I got myself a bottle of Oto Ease.
I put a drop on my finger tip and applied it to the opening of my ear canal.
Then I rolled the earplug into a cylinder and applied another drop to the earplug.
I pulled up my ear—the earplug slid in like butter.
Even my right, often stubborn ear posed no problem whatsoever.
I had found the secret sauce.
I have since tried the lubricant with different types of earplugs, many of which I had not been able to insert in the past. Now I can insert many more of them.
How well do lubricated earplugs work?
Earplugs that blocked noise well in the past keep doing so. There is no marked difference in attenuation as far as I am concerned.
The big difference is that now I get my ears sealed much more easily. I don’t accidentally squish the earplugs and I don’t have to push them. They just slide in.
Also, some of the earplugs with which I couldn’t get a seal in the past now work.
I have also not noticed a difference in how well the earplugs stay in place compared to dry-inserted earplugs.
I am not a great fan of reusable triple-flange silicone earplugs that are often used for swimming, but also for noise isolation. I always found them a bit painful to insert. Now with a lubricant, I can insert these too without experiencing discomfort.
In the meantime I have done some variations of this experiment.
- I applied the lubricant only to my ear canal openings. This works almost as well. In fact, for fast-recovering foam earplugs this works better; some earplugs simply don’t stay small for long enough to apply the lubricant to the plug and then insert it.
- I used the lubricant only to insert earplugs into my right “problem ear.” I mostly have no issues getting a good seal for my left ear. I now also have no problems sliding in the right earplug.
- The bottle is small, but with two drops per ear (one on my finger, lubricating the ear canal entrance and one for the plug) it lasts a long time.
If you find it difficult to insert ear plugs or even impossible to find a pair that works for you, I recommend you give Oto Ease a try.
People use this lubricant to insert hearing aids, custom molded earplugs, triple-flange silicone earplugs, foam earplugs, and noise-isolating earphones.