If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to might be initiating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of 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 an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the concern: recurring exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can induce permanent hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is specifically essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just staying away from the sound. Most of us are unwilling to resign our careers or forgo attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we get older. The only solution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And while it’s true that any earplug can accomplish this, it turns out that it’s not that 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 reduced 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) handle 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 edge in three vital categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs shut out all sound and all frequencies, producing what is called the occlusion effect for the user, which is the sense of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs reduce overall sound quality and produce a confined sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, alternatively, come with advanced filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter select types of sound more than others, preserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, producing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are molded 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 crafted 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. Seeing as custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem at all.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in a profession 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 disposing 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s do a comparison of that $197 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
A top quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or longer, but let’s just say 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.
In addition, by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and foam earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the similarities end. Custom earplugs have better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, much less.