Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to could be producing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s at risk for hearing loss?
An everyday conversation registers at a volume of around 60 decibels. City traffic registers at approximately 80, a rock concert at 100, a sporting event at 105, a power saw at 110, and a shotgun blast at a deafening 145.
Here’s the problem: repeated subjection to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can bring about irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is particularly vital for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just keeping away from the sound. Most of us are unwilling to abandon our jobs or forgo attending concerts just to assure that we can hear better when we grow old. The only resolution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And though it’s true that any earplug can accomplish this, it turns out that it’s not so simple, for two reasons:
- All sound is not created equal—The sounds of speech are much different than the sounds of background noise. You want to suppress more of the background noise than of speech or music.
- Sound is dynamic—different frequencies require 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) reduce the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) deal with assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three vital categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs shut out all sound and all frequencies, producing 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 overall sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, conversely, have advanced filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter select types of sound more than others, preserving the fidelity of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are molded to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant pressure. Custom earplugs are also made with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
Additionally, foam earplugs do not adapt well to differences in ear size and shape. Given that custom earplugs are specially molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem whatsoever.
Let’s do some quick calculations, beginning with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in an occupation that requires 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 the span of four years you’d be disposing 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s do a comparison of that $197 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
A quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or longer, but let’s just assume four. The majority of custom earplugs cost under $100, so your total cost after four years is less than half the cost of the disposable earplugs—and you get better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and foam earplugs will both decrease volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the similarities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, significantly less.