Earplugs are made of acoustically imperforate materials and of a specific size so that when properly worn they can provide appropriate hearing protection. That said, you must make sure that your earplugs are inserted correctly into the ear.
There are several types of hearing protection, from low-cost, low-tech foam or wax to high-tech, high-end noise cancellation earphones, the best one depends upon your protection needs. If you have a specific specialize need for hearing protection, consult with a hearing professional who will help you determine the best option for you.
An important consideration on any hearing protection is that you wear it properly. When not worn properly, hearing protection is less effective, so take time to read the directions on how to use.
But, you have to go pro-active. You have to be the one to make the purchase and actually wear them! You’ve only got two ears. And noise-induced hearing loss is permanent.
Audiologists advise that other general-purpose materials should not be used as hearing protection! They offer little, if any, protection from noise.
I have also examined cotton balls, motorcycle helmets and simply putting your fingers in your ears. In short, cotton provides only 5 10 dB except at the highest frequencies; surprisingly motorcycle helmets, which are quite acoustically leaky, are not much better. However, fingers in your ears (though not terribly functional for general activities) nets you 25 30 dB; and could be sufficient for a brief noise emergency.