Plug it

Buying earplugs: sounds simple, but with a huge array of designs, styles and prices it can be a bit of a mission to pick the right set for your ears.

Do I need earplugs?

Some people swim without and don't have any trouble in the short term. But as the water temperature drops, the cold water in your ear canal can feel unpleasant and cause a few problems.


The ultimate cautionary tale is about a horrible condition called surfers' ear or auditory exostosis. It's caused by repeatedly exposing your ears to cold water over an extended period of time, and is found in year-round surfers. The low sea temperature and wind chill is thought to increase blood flow which stimulates bones inside the ear to grow. The result can be ear infections and hearing loss and one cure involves surgery and drilling - eek!


Surfers' ear is motivation enough to invest in a pair of earplugs. But they can also help reduce dizziness and protect your ears from infection. So what sort should you buy?


Types of earplug

There are a few types of earplug. Picking the right ones can be a matter of trial and error, but here's a rough guide.


1. Foam plugs

These are the cheap ones that you can buy pretty much everywhere. They look like fingertips and feel a bit like you've stuck your fingers in your ears.

+ They're cheap and easy to find. You can squish them up so that they expand to fit your ears.

- They're a bit one-size-fits-all and they often pop out when they expand so you lose them in the water. Not very eco-friendly.

Best for: Breaststroke swimmers or emergency purchases.


2. Putty

I actually like silicone putty earplugs a lot. They are squishy and mouldable, and unlike the foam earplugs, they stay moulded so they fit perfectly in your ears. They're great for blocking out water, but you can't hear with them in.

+ Fairly cheap, easy to mould and snug fitting. Block out a lot of water.

- Block out sound, get stuff stuck to them so they're not the most hygienic, and they're not infallible - I have lost a few to the bottom of the lake. They're a faff to remove with cold hands.