What to Look For
Many people who swim are prone to ear infections, or get water blocking their ears. To prevent either of these, a set of ear plugs is a good solution. All watertight ear plugs will keep water out. The top choices are the plunger style that inserts into the ear and the molded cap that fits in the outer ear. To prevent an outer or middle ear infection, keeping water out is the key.
Allergies or a cold or sinus issues can cause problems for swimmers by blocking water from leaving the middle ear. Water that remains in the middle ear can cause a painful ear infection called swimmers ear. All ear plugs will block out the water to some extent, but some can cause wax to be pushed deeper into the ear, blocking the opening, and causing temporary hearing loss. Swimmers may have to change the type of ear plugs that they use, from the plunger style to the molded kind, to prevent wax blockage. If you wear ear plugs frequently, irrigating the ear canal will keep wax from building up in the ear.
Where to Buy
Ear plugs are sold at drugstores or superstores such as Walmart. These stores carry both the plunger type and the molded wax plugs. Drugstores also carry noise blocking ear plugs that are not designed to be waterproof. All swimming plugs will state that they are waterproof on the package. Websites such as E.A.R. carry ear plugs, for swimming and for activities such as shooting or playing music.
Ear plugs are inexpensive. The plunger style costs less than $3, and the molded type costs under $5 for a box, in 2010. There are more expensive ear plugs that cost about $20 for a set. They are made from an injectable plastic that is heated up and then custom fitted to the ear. The price goes up if acoustical material is added so that you can hear through them.
The plunger style of ear plug, while the most inexpensive, is the most invasive style of plug. If you have small ears, they may not be comfortable, and if they are pushed in too far, it may hurt. They are very effective if they fit properly. Since they are made of pliable plastic, they degrade quickly in water so need to be replaced often for a waterproof fit.
The molded type of ear plug is ideal for people with ears that don't conform well to the plunger style. The wax or other material can be custom molded to fit perfectly in the ear for a watertight fit.
Ear plugs will stay put better if worn under a tight swim cap. Keep them in a case to prevent soiling, damage or loss of the plugs.
A small piece of lambswool or cotton coated in beeswax makes a decent waterproof barrier for the ears. If you are swimming or playing at the beach, that may be enough to keep water out of your ears. For longer distances or time in the water, a watertight plug is the better option.