If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible hazard. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we expose ourselves to could be initiating permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An everyday conversation registers at a volume of roughly 60 decibels. City traffic registers at about 80, a rock concert at 100, a sporting event at 105, a power saw at 110, and a shotgun blast at an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the issue: recurring subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can bring about permanent hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is particularly crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as straightforward as just keeping away from the sound. Most of us are unwilling to resign our careers or forgo attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The goal of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And even though it’s true that any earplug can achieve this, it turns out that it’s not that simple, for two reasons:
- All sound is not created equal—speech is different than background noise, and you’ll want to suppress the latter, not the former.
- Sound is dynamic—different frequencies necessitate different handling, and volume shouldn’t be decreased by too much or by too little.
So, for an earplug to be effective, it has to 1) limit the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) manage various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three vital categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, creating what is known as the occlusion effect for the user, which is the perception of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs reduce all-around sound quality and produce a claustrophobic sensation.
Custom earplugs, alternatively, have specialized filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific kinds of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, producing a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are cast to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing a secure, natural fit without the feeling of continuous pressure. Custom earplugs are also manufactured with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
Additionally, foam earplugs are unable to adjust well to differences in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specifically shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape create no problem at all.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in an occupation that calls for the every-day use of earplugs. Assuming an average cost of $0.19 per pair, with use on 5 days a week over 4 years, the total cost would be:
$0.19 X 5 days X 52 weeks X 4 years = $197.60 total cost.
(Also keep in mind the environmental cost: over four years you’d be discarding 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s compare that $197 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
A high quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or more, but let’s just say four. The majority of custom earplugs cost under $100, so your overall cost after four years is less than half the cost of the disposable earplugs—and you’ll attain better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and disposable earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the commonalities end. Custom earplugs have better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, much less.