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 subject ourselves to might be causing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
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 problem: repeated subjection to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can lead to irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is especially vital 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 abandon our jobs or go without 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 subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And though it’s true that any earplug can accomplish this, it turns out that it’s not that 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 lowered 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 assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three critical areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
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 produce a confined feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, on the other hand, come with advanced filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific kinds of sound more than others, conserving the quality of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, creating a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is nearly universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are cast 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 made with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.
Additionally, foam earplugs are unable to adjust well to differences in ear size and shape. Seeing as custom earplugs are specifically shaped for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem at all.
Let’s do some quick calculations, starting 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 the span of 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 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 better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom molded earplugs and disposable 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 term, significantly less.