Dear Lucy: My house is surrounded by major construction sites, and this will last for several years. Six days a week, the demolition, reconstruction, digging, pounding, and backup beeping begin several hours before I want to wake up. It’s bad enough with storm windows closed in winter; other times of the year, it’s much worse. I can wear headphones while sitting up, but not while lying down. Are there any types of earplugs that might be more effective and suitable for sleeping than the inadequate foam earplugs sold at drugstores? —Sound And Fury
Dear S&F: Lucy, whose next-door neighbor is a wee bit too fond of his leaf blower, feels just a small portion of your pain. But that is enough to make her drop everything and seek an immediate answer to your dilemma. For that, Lucy turns to recently retired MIT Medical Audiologist Christine Rabinowitz.
During her years at MIT, Rabinowitz helped many people at the Institute hear better, but, as it turns out, she’s also a great source for expert advice on hearing less well. To Lucy’s surprise, Rabinowitz was far from disdainful of those flimsy-appearing drugstore earplugs. “It turns out that foam earplugs, when inserted as directed on the package, provide the best overall reduction in unwanted sound,” she says. “When inserted as directed.” And that’s the sticking point. “Unfortunately, many people find it difficult to insert these earplugs as deeply as necessary to achieve sufficient noise attenuation,” Rabinowitz observes. To improve your technique, she suggests viewing a helpful YouTube video
On the other hand, she notes, while foam earplugs do a good job of dampening sound, many people find them uncomfortable for sleeping and prefer “something softer.” If this is you, she suggests trying moldable silicone earplugs, also available in most drugstores. “Again,” she cautions, “follow directions, and don’t break off pieces that could become dislodged in the ear canal and cause problems.”
Once you’ve experimented enough to find an earplug type and brand that works, Lucy suggests looking for a source where you can purchase them in bulk. While Rabinowitz notes that most earplugs are “somewhat reusable,” several years of construction noise will probably require several large boxes of earplugs. Lucy wishes you the best of luck in surviving all those noisy mornings, to come. —Lucy