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 could be initiating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An ordinary conversation registers at a volume of around 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 problem: repetitive subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can bring about irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is especially essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as simple as just avoiding the sound. Most of us are not willing to give up our jobs or go without attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only resolution 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: lower the volume of sound. And even 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—different frequencies call for 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 much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three vital areas: 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 feeling of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs therefore reduce overall sound quality and create a claustrophobic feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, in contrast, have advanced 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, conserving the quality of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, creating a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are cast to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing a secure, natural fit without the feeling of continuous pressure. Custom earplugs are also crafted with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adapt well to differences in ear size and shape. Seeing as custom earplugs are specifically molded for each patient, differences in ear size and shape present no problem at all.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say 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 bear in mind the environmental cost: over the period of four years you’d be discarding 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 longer, 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 eliminate the waste associated with discarding 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 commonalities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, much less.