Traditional earplugs were effective in eliminating hazardous noise from entering the ear canal, but could interfere with mission communication requirements, such as speech communication or low level combat sounds. To solve this problem, scientists at the French-German Institute in Saint Louis, France, along with the United States Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (USACHPPM), created level-dependent earplugs. Level-dependent earplugs have a small filter that enables soft noises to be conveyed with full strength while eliminating any high-frequency or impulse noise. This allows a soldier to hear key verbal and combat sounds but provides increased attenuation from dangerous levels of noise such as explosions or machine gun fire. These and other forms of modern-day earplugs can represent an effective solution for protecting a service member’s hearing in a variety of situations, as described below.
Photo Credit: USACHPPM
Considerations for Use
Earplugs are easily transportable and can be used in a variety of situations, such as while operating weapons on the ground or in combat. They provide less attenuation than aviator helmets or headphones and are only recommended for operating aircrafts or combat vehicles in combination with other hearing protective devices. That being said, earplugs provide more freedom to move around and communicate verbally.
How to Properly Wear
Earplugs should be placed snugly in the ear canal so that they completely block the canal. When the earplug is correctly in place, a seal will form between the surface of the skin on the outer ear canal and the earplug. To test this, listen to the sound of one’s own voice. If the earplug is working effectively, the voice will seem louder and slightly muffled or lateralized. Additionally, the wearer may notice a vacuum sensation or feeling of backpressure in the ear canal. Each wearer is unique so a specialist should check to make sure the earplugs fit and are in place correctly.
To insert a pre-formed earplug*:
- Grasp plug firmly behind largest flange
- Insert smaller flange in ear canal
- Push and jiggle toward rear or center of head
- If a good seal is not obtained, use smaller or larger size
- Only stick should be seen when looking directly into mirror; last flange should be flush with ear canal
To insert a hand-formed earplug*:
- Roll earplug between thumb and index finger to make very thin tube
- Ensure there are no creases in rolled plug
- Pull up and back on ear
- Insert earplug as DEEPLY as possible
- All color should be in ear canal
*Earplug instructions courtesy of the Navy Hearing Conservation Program
Below, the right-most image shows proper insertion of earplugs. In 2006, a study of 300 flight deck crews from four Air Craft Carriers and two LHD vessels were interviewed. Results indicated that only seven percent, or 21 of the 300 workers interviewed, wore their HPDs correctly. Around 79 percent only received 0-6dB of hearing protection (attenuation).
Photo Credit: US Air Force Research Laboratory
Types of Earplugs
Earplugs come in many forms and are widely used across the military. Each type of earplug has its own advantages and applications. The table below covers a few of the many types and brands of earplugs that are available to service members across the services, along with their uses.
| ||Name & Description |
3M Double-Ended Combat Arms Earplug ™
The yellow end helps speech communication when impulse noise is present (gunfire) and the other end should be used when in the presence of steady-state noise (tank).
Handformed Foam Earplug
One of the many types of disposable earplugs. Used for occasional, short-term exposures. Roll the foam plug to form a thin taped cylinder and gently hold in the ear canal for 30 seconds.
Moldex BattlePlugs Impulse Earplugs ™
Uses a unique filter built into the plug body to reduce hazardous, sudden impulse noises (weapons fire).
Quad-Flange Earplug Elvex ® Quattro ™
Available in only one size, one size fits many. Provides the most protection when the first three flanges are inside the ear canal and the last blocks the canal opening.
Single-Ended Combat Arms ™ Earplug
Used to protect against impulse noise. It provides the most benefit when all three flanges are fit snugly in the ear canal.
- Personal Hearing Protective Devices Their Fitting, Care and Use. USACHPPM TG41. Mar 2006.
- 3M Com bat Earplugs 2010 [PDF 789.5 KB]
- Moldex Battleplugs [PDF 1.14 MB]
The content in this article is for information purposes only. The Hearing Center of Excellence does not endorse any specific brand. For a complete list of HPDs available, please search GSA’s site.
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