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 might be causing permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A typical conversation registers at a volume of about 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 a deafening 145.
Here’s the issue: repeated subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can lead to 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 simple as just keeping away from the sound. Most of us are not willing to quit our jobs 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 limiting the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The goal of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And though 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 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) handle assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll discover, custom earplugs accomplish these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three vital categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block all sound and all frequencies, creating 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 overall sound quality and create a claustrophobic sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, on the contrary, have advanced filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter specific types of sound more than others, preserving the quality of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, causing a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” perception is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, conversely, are molded 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 created with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adapt well to variations in ear size and shape. Seeing as custom earplugs are specially molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape present no problem whatsoever.
Let’s carry out some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in an occupation that calls for 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 duration of four years you’d be disposing 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s do a comparison of that $197 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
A high quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or longer, but let’s just say 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 attain 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 disposable earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and foam earplugs will both decrease 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, significantly less.