Anyone who has ever used earplugs over the years has probably run across Mack, at least in the U.S. They’ve been around since 1962 and have so many choices to choose from in their product line, it can get a tad confusing. Traveling as much as we do, we deal with urban noises outside our hotel windows and from neighbors when the walls are far too thin, as well as loud music, early morning maids chatting loudly through the hallways and of course, snoring. After a little digging and going back and forth with Mack’s marketing guy, I learn that many find the moldable silicone to be the “best”. In fact, apparently, Mack’s Pillow Soft Moldable Silicone Earplugs are USA’s #1 Selling retail earplugs and USA’s #1 Doctor Recommended earplugs for sleeping with a snoring spouse. That said, the NRR rating is only 22, which is on the lower side as far as numbers go and yes, the higher the number, the more sound is blocked in theory.
According to my source, most people report that they block noise as good or better than earplugs with higher NRR ratings while others claim they like a lower NRR rating as the lower noise blocking plugs will allow them to hear alarm clocks and their children better. Mack’s moldable silicone earplugs have the highest NRR rating for moldable silicone ear plugs at 22. We tested these out after doing higher NRR ratings first for obvious reasons and here’s what we learned.
Men and women’s ear canals are different sizes, so what may work for one may not work for another depending on the size and your comfort level. The moldable silicone putty earplugs take a little getting used to but after awhile, they start to become comfortable. They can also seal out water, provide protection after ear surgeries, provide non-toxic, non-allergenic protection and help relieve flying discomfort, which I rarely have but I know so many people who do.
They can make for a more comfortable fit once you use them for awhile, and can create a better seal than custom ear plugs.
So, exactly what does this NRR rating number mean and how important is it when you choose an ear plug? It is an acronym that stands for Noise Reduction Rating. The government, through the Environmental Protection Agency, requires that anti-noise hearing protection devices carry a label showing the NRR and so that’s why you see ear plugs with different numbers on the box, i.e., 22, 32 and so on. This means that, if you wear an ear plug with an NRR of 29, for example, in accordance with its directions, the noise entering your ears will be reduced by 29 decibels.
While the above option may make for a comfy fit, it didn’t work to solve a snoring issue while on the road, but the real question is, does anything out there block out 100%?
There are some wax plug out there that claim a 34 NRR and there are heavy duty earmuffs that top out at 33 NRR however the highest over the counter ones I’ve seen are around 32 and the the highest noise reduction rating (NRR) currently offered by an earplug is around 33 decibels. Decibel levels up to the earplug’s NRR rating will be blocked out entirely however noise over the earplug’s NRR may be heard. Another important factor to note is that the body absorbs sound; so short of encapsulating oneself in a sound proof chamber, it is seemingly impossible to block out all noise. Earplugs and other types of hearing protection devices are designed to lessen the harshness of the noise and bring it down to a safer, more tolerable level.
Keep in mind, that while the NRR is measured in decibels, the hearing protector being used does not reduce the surrounding decibel level by the exact number of decibels associated with that protector’s NRR. For example, if you are at a rock concert where the level of noise exposure is 100 dB and you are wearing earplugs with an NRR 33dB, your level of exposure would not be reduced to 67 dB. In other words, it’s a bit complicated and there’s no guarantee every solution will work for every individual. Some people are harder of hearing than others whereas some have an acute sense of hearing, myself included, although I can sleep through more background and ambient noise than most people I know.
Macks seemed like a great solution to test out for a myriad of reasons. First, they’re incredibly well known, reliable and doctor recommended. Secondly, they’re small, widely available and inexpensive, making them a great choice for regular use. Remember these guys have been around since 1962 and their whole focus is centered around sleep aids, sleep ear pugs, and swimmer’s ear prevention, as well as options for snoring, music, shooting, traveling, loud noise, and flying discomfort, all of which travelers deal with regularly. The Mack’s line of products also includes sleep masks, ear drying aids, lens wipes and earwax removal ear drops.
Let’s move onto snoring since we deal with that while traveling more often than we’d care to admit. Mack’s has a solution called SNORE BLOCKERS, which come in a fun lime green color, which makes them easy to find, especially at night. Included is a keychain carrying case, making them a great choice for travelers and its primary purpose is to block snoring spouses, roommates, fishing buddies and travel partners. So far, we’ve been using these the most and I have to admit, I LOVE the color although Macks also has some fun pink colored options as well.
Here’s the thing – Mack’s line is so extensive that there are tons of options to choose from (note the purple Slim Fit Soft Foam Ear option below), which is great for thinner ears since hey, let’s face it, we’re all designed a little differently. Note the fun colored sleep masks as well which are great “Travel Packing Musts” for your next trip.
For swimmers, Mack has comfortable water-proof swimming earplugs for kids and adults which block out water and help prevent swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) and surfer’s ear (exostosis). Mack’s swimmer’s ear plugs are also great for surfing, showering, kayaking, rafting, snorkeling and bathing.
AHHH yes, then we come to the SNORE MUFFLERS, which are made with Silicon Putty. The Silicon Putty molds to the unique contours of any ear and there’s no pressure, since it’s only a cover-only design. I found it amusing that the taglines of a few of the ear plugs included “Marriage Saver,” which is not surprising given how many couples I know who suffer from snoring partners.
We did find that the higher the decibel, the quieter the environment was around us and thus, easier to sleep if in a room where you’re fighting for silence. I find ear plugs to be the biggest necessity when I’m in cities like New York where the taxis and ambulances run 24/7 and of course, when you’re traveling with snoring partners. Truth be told, I know far too many people who don’t get enough sleep and while my 20 something year old friends might be able to get away with lack of sleep for awhile, my 40 and 50 something year friends are suffering.
Let’s remember that lack of sleep, especially quality sleep, results in a less productive work day and a less than fulfilling trip regardless of where you happen to be. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) indicates that insufficient sleep is associated with higher risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and depression.
Mack’s makes a wide array of options for a wide array of issues, some of which are more customizable than others and the other great upside as noted above is their reasonable price range. More information and to order over at http://www.macksearplugs.com.