Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we expose ourselves to might be initiating permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly over the years.
Who’s at risk for 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 a deafening 145.
Here’s the concern: repeated subjection to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can induce permanent hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is specifically critical 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 unwilling 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 subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The goal of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And even though 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 call for 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) deal with assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, custom earplugs achieve these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three crucial areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block 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 claustrophobic feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, on the contrary, have 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 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 seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are cast to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of continuous pressure. Custom earplugs are also developed with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs do not adjust well to variations in ear size and shape. Since 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, beginning with foam earplugs.
Assume that 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 four years you’d be disposing 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 more, but let’s just say four. The majority of custom earplugs cost under $100, so your overall cost after four years is less than half the cost of the disposable earplugs—and you’ll attain better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll eliminate the waste associated with throwing out over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs 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 term, much less.