If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible hazard. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to might be producing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An average 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: repetitive exposure to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can result in irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is particularly crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as straightforward as just staying clear of the sound. Most of us are not willing 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 subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The goal of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And even though 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 call for 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) reduce the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) deal with various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three important areas: 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 reduce all-around sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, in contrast, come with advanced 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 music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, causing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” perception is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, conversely, are shaped 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 made with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
Additionally, foam earplugs are unable to 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 present no problem whatsoever.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in a profession that calls for 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 four years you’d be throwing away 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s compare 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 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’ll attain better sound quality and comfort in return.
In addition, 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 similarities end. Custom earplugs have better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long run, much less.