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 could be creating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An everyday 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 problem: recurring subjection to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can bring about 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 give up our careers or forgo attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only resolution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The goal of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And while it’s true that any earplug can achieve this, it turns out that it’s not that easy, 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) manage 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 advantage in three vital areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Disposable foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, producing 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 overall sound quality and produce a confined feeling.
Custom earplugs, in contrast, have special filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter select kinds of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, producing a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are shaped to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant 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 differences in ear size and shape. Given that custom earplugs are specially molded for each patient, differences 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 a profession 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 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 assume 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’ll receive better sound quality and comfort in return.
In addition, by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and foam earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the similarities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, much less.