Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being cognizant of it, the sounds we expose ourselves to might be causing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A typical 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 issue: repetitive subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can bring about permanent hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is especially essential for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as straightforward as just circumventing the sound. Most of us are not willing to give up our jobs or forgo attending concerts just to ensure 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 subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The objective 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—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 decreased 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 assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, 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 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 therefore reduce all-around sound quality and produce a claustrophobic feeling.
Custom-molded earplugs, conversely, have advanced filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to reduce 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 seal within the ear canal, creating a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, conversely, are shaped 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 crafted 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. Since custom earplugs are specifically molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape create no problem whatsoever.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in an occupation 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 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 more, but let’s just assume 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 get greater sound quality and comfort in return.
In addition, by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll eliminate the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and disposable 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 term, much less.