If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to could be initiating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s at risk for 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 issue: recurring subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can result in irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is particularly vital for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just keeping away from the sound. Most of us are not willing to abandon our careers or forgo attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we get older. The only resolution is a compromise: safeguarding our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And while 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 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) 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 see, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three critical categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block 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 overall sound quality and produce a confined feeling.
Custom earplugs, alternatively, have advanced filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific types of sound more than others, preserving 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, producing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling 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 form.
In addition, foam earplugs do not adapt well to differences in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specifically shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape create no problem whatsoever.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, beginning with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in an occupation 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 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 say four. The majority of 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 greater sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that 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 molded earplugs 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 run, much less.