Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being conscious of it, the sounds we expose ourselves to could be initiating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A normal conversation registers at a volume of around 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 subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can induce permanent hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is specifically essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just circumventing the sound. Most of us are not willing to abandon our careers or forgo attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The function 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 easy, 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 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) handle various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three critical categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs shut out 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 therefore reduce overall sound quality and produce a claustrophobic feeling.
Custom earplugs, alternatively, have specialized filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter particular types of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is nearly universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are molded 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 form.
In addition, foam earplugs do not adapt well to variations in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specifically molded for each patient, differences in ear size and shape create no problem at all.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, beginning with foam earplugs.
Let’s say 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 disposing 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. Most 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 connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and foam earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the commonalities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, significantly less.