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 subject ourselves to might be causing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s at risk for hearing loss?
A normal 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 in excess of 85 decibels can bring about irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is particularly essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just staying away from the sound. Most of us are unwilling to quit our jobs or go without attending concerts just to assure that we can hear better when we get older. 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 objective 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—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) deal with assorted 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 important categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs shut out all sound and all frequencies, generating 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 all-around sound quality and produce a claustrophobic sensation.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, 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 certain types 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, tight seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are shaped to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing 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 shape.
Additionally, 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 pose no problem at all.
Let’s do some quick calculations, beginning with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in a profession 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 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 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 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 avoid the waste connected with throwing out over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and foam earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the commonalities end. Custom earplugs have better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, significantly less.