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 could be causing permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An everyday conversation registers at a volume of about 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 a deafening 145.
Here’s the issue: recurring exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can induce irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is especially vital for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just staying away from the sound. Most of us are not willing to quit our careers or go without attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The purpose of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And even 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—specific frequencies call for 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 various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three crucial areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, creating what is called 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 create a claustrophobic feeling.
Custom earplugs, on the contrary, have specialized filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific types of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, causing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” perception is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, conversely, are molded to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant pressure. Custom earplugs are also created with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adapt well to variations in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specifically molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem whatsoever.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in a profession that requires the daily 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 throwing away 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s compare 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 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 greater sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste connected 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, significantly less.