If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible hazard. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we expose ourselves to could be producing permanent hearing loss that accumulates irreversibly year after year.
Who’s at risk for hearing loss?
A normal 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 concern: recurring exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can result in irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is especially vital 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 quit our jobs or go without attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we grow old. The only solution 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 purpose of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And although 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—specific frequencies necessitate 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) limit the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) manage assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, custom earplugs achieve these two feats much better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three critical areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.
1. Sound Quality
Foam earplugs block 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 reduce all-around sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom earplugs, in contrast, come with special 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 kinds of sound more than others, preserving the fidelity of speech and music.
Foam earplugs, to be effective, have to form a deep seal within the ear canal, producing a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, however, 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 crafted with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change shape.
In addition, foam earplugs do not adjust well to variations in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specially shaped for each patient, differences in ear size and shape present no problem at all.
Let’s perform some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Assume that you work in a profession 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 keep in mind the environmental cost: over four years you’d be discarding 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 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’ll get better sound quality and comfort in return.
Not to mention that by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste connected with throwing out over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and foam earplugs will both reduce 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, much less.