If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible threat. Without even being mindful of it, the sounds we expose ourselves to could be creating permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An everyday 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 an earsplitting 145.
Here’s the issue: repetitive subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can lead to irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is particularly critical 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 quit our jobs 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 subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom earplugs
The objective of any earplug is obvious: reduce the volume of sound. And even though it’s true that any earplug can accomplish 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 necessitate different handling, and volume shouldn’t be lowered 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 areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, producing what is known as the occlusion effect for the user, which is the sense of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs therefore reduce all-around sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom-molded earplugs, on the other hand, 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 particular kinds of sound more than others, conserving 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 constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, are molded 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 developed with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.
Additionally, foam earplugs are unable to adapt well to differences in ear size and shape. Seeing as custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, variations in ear size and shape pose no problem whatsoever.
Let’s carry out 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 the period 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 more, but let’s just assume 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 get 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 hearing protection and disposable earplugs will both decrease volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the commonalities end. Custom earplugs have better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, significantly less.