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 might be causing permanent hearing loss that grows 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 an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the concern: recurring exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can result in permanent hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is particularly crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just staying clear of the sound. Most of us are unwilling to give up our careers or forgo attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution is a compromise: protecting 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: reduce 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—speech is different than background noise, and you’ll want to suppress the latter, not the former.
- Sound is dynamic—specific frequencies necessitate 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) manage various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats much 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, 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, alternatively, come with specialized 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 kinds of sound more than others, conserving the quality of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, causing a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, 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 manufactured with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adapt well to variations in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape create no problem at all.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in an occupation 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 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 longer, 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 get 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 discarding 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 term, much less.