For many Australians, a regular pair of ear plugs from the chemist mean one thing: pain. If you have smaller or sensitive ears, a regular set of foam plugs can cause discomfort through expanding and over-filling the ear, as outward pressure irritates the sensitive ear canal. In response to this, designers have come up with a variety of plugs optimised for smaller or sensitive ears. These plugs are available in silicone, foam, or even as reusables and in this guide we’re going to talk through the five most popular products in this range. A few things to note, in general these plugs are:
- Low density. Often it’s pressure that causes the discomfort individuals associate with ear plugs: many of these plugs are hollow or otherwise made of special low density foam, designed to minimise the pressure placed on the sensitive ear canal.
- Narrower or shorter than traditional plugs. For individuals with smaller ears, a narrower tip and base actually creates a superior seal and fit, allowing for even more sound to be blocked. By contrast, bigger plugs tend to become dislodged or slip out during the night, defeating the purpose of ear plugs.
- Light. As with the point about density, heavier plugs can often feel very conspicuous in the ear, creating a sensation that can often be as sleep-disrupting as the snores you’re trying to block out. These plugs are all on the lighter end of the spectrum, making them feel almost invisible when worn.
One major misconception we want to clear up: smaller plugs are not just made for women. In fact, about 50% of our sales for smaller sized or narrower plugs come from men. If you find that your earphones or headphones are discomforting, it may be that you have smaller or sensitive ears -- these plugs would be a great place to start for a better night’s sleep.
With that in mind, let’s jump in!
$9.95 for Six Pairs, discounts for 12 and 18 pairs.
Often, customers come to us having tried the standard foam plugs from the chemist and the first thing we recommend as an alternative is silicone. The Earjobs Silicone Putty is a light, hypoallergenic and above all malleable sleep solution that’s excellent for small and sensitive ears. Because it’s silicone, you shape it in your hands and seal it over the entrance to the ear — a properly fitted set of silicone plugs will only have minimal entry into the ear canal, allowing you to avoid pressure on the inside of the ear while you sleep. Unlike foam, silicone does not block by expanding to fill the ear, but rather by creating an airtight seal through its natural stickiness. Because you’re able to shape it how you like, it makes it an excellently flexible fit for all sorts of ear shapes, appropriate whether your ears are narrow or shallow. (For the same reason, they’re excellent too for individuals with larger ears — meaning you can share a family sized set and get a discount). The Earjobs Silicone Putty is rated to block about 23 SNR, approximately 23 decibels, which makes it a good medium strength plug, great for dampening snores without undermining your alarm.
$15.95 for 10 pairs, available in 3, 7, 50, and 100 pairs.
However, a big advantage of foam is that it blocks a lot of sound when compared to silicone, pushing designers to manufacture a high quality foam solution that’s still effective for individuals with smaller ear canals. The Mack’s Slim Fit is about 15% narrower than the original Macks, rated to 29 NRR (about 29 dB of sound protection) and has a smooth non-irritating skin that’s designed to minimise any discomfort for the sensitive ear canal. Unlike a lot of plugs, they lack a heavily flared base, which means they’re not going to wriggle out of your ears when you move in the night and should instead sit nicely flush with the ear, creating a great seal without the pain or discomfort. As with all of Mack’s line, they feature ‘slow-release comfort’ foam, which is designed to gently inflate and softly form a seal against the ear, another nice optimisation that makes this a great choice for individuals who prioritise comfort.
$13.95 for 14 pairs, also available in 56 and 100 pairs.
The next step up in terms of noise protection is the Hearos Sleep Pretty in Pink, with an NRR of 32 it’s nearing the peak of what can be achieved with a set of foam ear plugs. They’ve got an eye catching bright pink colour, easily located even in the dead of night, and have a great level of sound protection. Like the Slim Fit, the Sleep Pretty in Pink is made of a soft, smooth and low density foam — these features are what allow them to avoid irritating the ear canal. These are definitely a plug optimised for a smaller ear canal, they’re narrower at the tip, lack a wide base, and can be compressed quite small which makes them effective even for younger adults.
$9.95 for 10, available also in sets of 25, 50, and 100 pairs.
However, only one foam ear plug can reign supreme — and there’s a reason the Super Soft Small Orange won our coveted award of Best Foam Sleeping Ear Plug. The Super Soft Small Orange is our pick as the best foam solution for small and sensitive ears, as it coordinates a variety of features from different plugs to create a really effective sleeping solution. With an NRR of 30, these are a high blocking plug — not as high as that of the Hearos Sleep Pretty in Pink, but we think more than sufficient for the majority of situations. Unique to the plug is the hollow core, these have an x-shaped hole in the base that makes them ultra light and ultra low-pressure when worn in the ear. As compared to a normal, non-hollow foam plug, the Uvex expand very gently and have a limited weight, making them very inconspicuous and perfect for the most sensitive ears. They have a smooth, sealed surface, preventing foreign bodies from penetrating the plug, and are easy to insert and remove. They’re one of the first plugs we suggest to anyone seeking a foam solution who has complained about fit or weight in the past, as they block the same or similar amounts of sound when compared to bigger foam solutions, with far less of a footprint.
If you’ve tried foam and silicone and are interested in a reusable plug, it’s especially important for individuals with small or sensitive ears to pick a reusable that’s made of light and flexible components, to avoid irritation particularly if you sleep on your side. The gold standard in this regard is the Alpine SleepSoft, a flexible, comfortable reusable plug with a variety of optimisations that target the smaller eared individual. Most notable is Alpine’s ‘thermo-shape’ material. A non-silicone, hypoallergenic tip, the thermo-shape tip uses the heat of the body to shape itself comfortably and effectively to the ear, making it a flexible solution for all ear types and particularly effective for smaller ears. This thermo-shape material expands gently, so it’s not going to cause excessive outward pressure. A big advantage for a reusable plug is the presence of filters: these allow sound to be blocked, while still passing through the kinds of sounds you might want to hear. The Alpine SleepSoft is going to block a good amount of sound, in the vicinity of 25 decibels, while still letting you hear your alarm, your doorbell, or the kids. It comes with extremely soft filters, designed for side sleepers but equally effective for sensitive-eared individuals: you will barely know you’re wearing them.
All ears are different, but for individuals with smaller or sensitive ears the biggest priority should be finding tips that are light and comfortable. The worst case scenario is finding a plug that blocks a lot of sound, but also causes new discomforts and with it makes it just as difficult to sleep. These are just a few suggestions based on our reviews and the reviews of our customers, you can see our whole sleeping range here.