Earplugs and Noise Cancelling Headphones
Let’s start with the warning about the over-use of earplugs. Your brain seeks auditory input, and adjusts based on your environment. When you starve your brain for stimulation from sound, your brain will become more sensitive to soft sounds. Because misophonia generally includes triggers of soft sounds, excessive use of earplugs increases your sensitivity to many trigger sounds. So beware: Do not use earplugs as an everyday method for blocking out triggers. If you need to block trigger sounds for prolonged periods of time, use noise cancelling headphones and play music or noise so you provide continual stimulation for your auditory system.
Appropriate Use of Earplugs
You may want to use earplugs at night, or in specific, short-term situations. For example, when you are taking an exam, earplugs are appropriate.
When you use earplugs, make sure that they fit completely into the ear. When I use them, they are so deep that I have to pick the earplug out using my fingernail. Any part of the earplug that is outside your ear canal is material that is wasted. Only the material within your ear canal blocks the sound.
There are two common types of earplugs. One is a molded foam, conical shape, with a rounded tip. These are often brightly colored. The second type is a foam cylinder punched out of a sheet of material. These are generally beige or yellow. The molded foam can be reused more times, but hurt my ears when I sleep with them because they push harder against the ear canal. The punched cylinder types are my favorites, but can only be used a few times.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
Headphones can be helpful at blocking triggers. Although kids would prefer to listen to music through headphones, music does not block triggers as well as noise. Music has loud, soft, and even silence between songs. Noise is constant. Noise tends to include sounds that have more similarity to triggers than does music.
A great misophonia management tool is the Bose noise cancelling headphones (QC20/20i and QC25). The QC20/20i were the first headphones designed to cancel out single occurrence sounds, such as speech. All noise cancelling headphones are good at blocking background noise, but it is the triggers that we are trying to block. These Bose headphones are excellent at cancelling out single occurrence sounds. The QC20 is an earbud style, but fits just outside the ear canal and plugs it, making it very comfortable for extended use. The Bose QC25 is equally good and is an over-the-ear style. I don’t know of any other noise cancelling headphones that work as well as these Bose models. These headphones will virtually eliminate sound triggers when used in noise cancelling mode, and while playing a noise app. They do this without blasting so loudly that you may damage your ears. Unfortunately, they have no effect on visual triggers.
The Bose headphones are expensive, but you get what you pay for. An economical alternative to completely block auditory triggers is to use a combination of earplugs and over-the-ear headphones blasting noise or music. The earplugs prevent damage to your ears from the loud noise, and the combination completely eliminates ambient sounds. This way your brain has auditory input, but all triggers are blocked. You can also accomplish the same thing using earbuds and earmuff style hearing protectors. Either combination gives great noise isolation at a low cost.