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 expose ourselves to might be creating permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly over the years.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
An average conversation registers at a volume of approximately 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 problem: recurring subjection to any sound above 85 decibels can lead to irreversible hearing loss. That’s why hearing protection is specifically crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just circumventing the sound. Most of us are not willing to resign our careers or go without attending concerts just to ensure that we can hear better when we grow old. The only resolution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Disposable versus custom 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 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—different frequencies require 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) handle various types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.
As you’ll see, custom earplugs achieve 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 all sound and all frequencies, generating 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 claustrophobic feeling.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, have special filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be customized to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter particular types of sound more than others, conserving the quality of music and speech.
Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, creating a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” feeling is nearly universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are molded to the contours of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating 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 differences in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specially molded for each patient, variations in ear size and shape pose no problem whatsoever.
Let’s do some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.
Let’s say you work in a profession 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 keep in mind the environmental cost: over 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 total cost after four years is less than half the cost of the disposable earplugs—and you’ll receive better sound quality and comfort in return.
In addition, by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.
Custom hearing protection 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 term, significantly less.