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 might be causing permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A regular conversation registers at a volume of approximately 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: repetitive exposure to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can induce irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is particularly essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just keeping away from the sound. Most of us are unwilling to quit our careers or forgo attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we get older. The only resolution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And while 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—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 necessitate different handling, and volume shouldn’t be lowered 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) manage assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three vital areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, generating 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 overall sound quality and create a claustrophobic feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, in contrast, come with advanced filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter certain kinds of sound more than others, preserving the quality 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” feeling is nearly universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are cast to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant pressure. Custom earplugs are also developed with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, 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 whatsoever.
Let’s do some quick calculations, beginning with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in an occupation 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 the span of four years you’d be throwing away 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 more, 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’ll get greater sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll eliminate the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable 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 better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, much less.