If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible hazard. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to could be creating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A typical conversation registers at a volume of roughly 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: repetitive exposure to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can bring about permanent hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is specifically crucial 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 give up our jobs or forgo attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we get older. The only resolution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The objective of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And though 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—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) handle various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three crucial categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block 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 overall sound quality and produce a confined feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, conversely, have special 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 select types of sound more than others, preserving the quality of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, producing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are shaped 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 created with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.
In addition, foam earplugs do not adjust well to variations in ear size and shape. Given that custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape pose no problem whatsoever.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that 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 the span of four years you’d be discarding 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 more, but let’s just say four. Most 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 wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste connected with throwing out 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 far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, much less.