Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being mindful of it, the sounds we subject ourselves to might be causing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An average conversation registers at a volume of around 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 concern: repetitive subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can induce irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is specifically critical 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 unwilling to give up our jobs or go without attending concerts just to assure that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The function of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And though 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—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 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) deal with various 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 vital categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs shut out all sound and all frequencies, creating what is called the occlusion effect for the user, which is the sense of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs reduce all-around sound quality and produce a confined sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, alternatively, have specialized filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter particular types of sound more than others, preserving the fidelity of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” sensation is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are cast to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, producing a secure, natural fit without the feeling of constant pressure. Custom earplugs are also developed with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs are unable to adjust well to differences in ear size and shape. Given that custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape pose no problem at all.
Let’s carry out 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 keep in mind the environmental cost: over the duration of four years you’d be throwing away 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s do a comparison of 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 say 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 greater sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that 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 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 term, significantly less.