Using ear plugs is one of the easiest steps you can take to protect your ears from damaging noise. These small devices are inserted into the ear to block out disruptive or damaging sounds. Shopping for ear plugs can be confusing, as there are a large variety of styles available, but with patience and a little bit of know-how you can find the plug for you.

Start by assessing the amount of noise dampening you require. Ear plugs are labelled with a noise reduction rating (NRR) to indicate how much noise they are able to block. Better quality ear plugs will have NRR’s between 21 and 33. Figure out where and when you will use your ear plugs. Ear plugs with a lower NRR are sufficient for blocking out traffic noise or your roommate’s TV while studying. However if you spend a lot of time around fairly loud noises you’ll need a higher NRR as would be the case for heavy equipment operators or musicians.

Next, take some time to consider the composition of the plugs you are considering. Foam is one of the most basic materials used in ear plugs. These plugs are compressed as they are inserted, then expand to plug the ear. Alternatively, silicone plugs are molded over the outside of the ear canal, allowing you to create a plug that fits your ear perfectly. Both types of plugs are disposable.

Lastly, evaluate whether you’d be better served with non-disposable, custom ear plugs. You can get away with using a simple silicone or foam plug in many situations, but there are specific plugs made for certain environments. If you are a musician who is constantly exposed to loud music, you may want to look into custom-made, non-disposable earplugs. Musician plugs are custom fitted and designed to allow the artist to hear themselves while blocking out harmful noise around them.

A totally different use of ear plugs is to block out a partner’s snoring while sleeping. Look for specialized plugs that will block out the sound of snoring while still allowing you to hear your alarm clock, fire alarm, and other important sounds. When comparing ear plugs for sleeping, be sure to test them out with your head tilted sideways. This helps you figure out if they will be comfortable to wear while you are lying down.

If you take the time to really think about what you need your earplugs for, you should not have any problems finding a pair that suits you.