If hearing loss is the invisible disability, then sound is the invisible hazard. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we subject ourselves to might be producing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.
Who’s in danger of hearing loss?
A typical conversation registers at a volume of roughly 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 problem: repetitive subjection to any sound in excess of 85 decibels can lead to irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is especially critical for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.
But it’s not as easy as just staying clear of the sound. Most of us are not willing to quit our jobs or go without attending concerts just to make certain that we can hear better when we grow old. The only resolution is a compromise: protecting our hearing by limiting the volume of the sounds we’re subjected to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.
Custom versus disposable earplugs
The objective of any earplug is obvious: lower 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 call for 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) reduce 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 discover, custom earplugs achieve these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the advantage in three important 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 all-around sound quality and create a confined sensation.
Custom earplugs, alternatively, come with special filters for an exact, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to reduce volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter certain 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 seal within the ear canal, creating a constant feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” perception is practically universal.
Custom earplugs, on the other hand, are shaped to the curves of each patient’s ears by a hearing professional, creating a secure, natural fit without the feeling of continuous pressure. Custom earplugs are also made 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 specifically molded for each patient, differences 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 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 duration of four years you’d be discarding 1,040 pairs of earplugs!)
Let’s compare 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 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 get greater sound quality and comfort in return.
In addition, by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste associated with discarding over 1,000 pairs of foam earplugs.
Custom hearing protection and disposable earplugs will both reduce volume and protect your hearing, but that’s where the commonalities end. Custom earplugs have far better sound quality, are more comfortable, and cost you and the environment, in the long term, significantly less.