If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we expose ourselves to could be creating permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly over the years.
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 an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the concern: repeated exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can bring about irreversible 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 quit our careers or forgo attending concerts just to assure that we can hear better when we get older. The only solution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The purpose of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And although it’s true that any earplug can achieve 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 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) limit 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 accomplish these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three critical areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs shut out all sound and all frequencies, creating 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 all-around sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom earplugs, conversely, have specialized filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter particular kinds of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, causing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, conversely, are molded to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing 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.
Additionally, foam earplugs do not adjust well to differences in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem whatsoever.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in a profession 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 bear in mind the environmental cost: over the span of 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 high quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or more, 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’ll attain greater sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste associated with throwing out over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and disposable 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.