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Custom-Molded Silicone Earplug

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 accumulates irreversibly year after year.

Who’s at risk for hearing loss?

An everyday conversation registers at a volume of roughly 60 decibels. City traffic registers at about 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 crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.

But it’s not as easy as just avoiding the sound. Most of us are not willing to give up 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: safeguarding our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.

Disposable versus custom earplugs

The goal of any earplug is obvious: decrease the volume of sound. And though it’s true that any earplug can accomplish this, it turns out that it’s not so simple, for two reasons:

  1. 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.
  2. 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) limit the volume of sound, but not by too much or too little, and 2) deal with assorted types of sounds, or frequencies, differently.

As you’ll see, custom earplugs achieve these two feats better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three important categories: sound quality, comfort, and cost.

1. Sound Quality

Disposable foam earplugs block out all sound and all frequencies, creating 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 feeling.

Custom-molded earplugs, on the other hand, have specialized filters for a precise, even level of noise reduction (attenuation). The earplugs can be programmed to decrease volume only by the necessary amount, and can filter particular types of sound more than others, conserving the fidelity of speech and music.

2. Comfort

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” sensation is nearly universal.

Custom earplugs, however, are cast 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 manufactured with soft, medical-grade material that doesn’t shrink or change form.

In addition, foam earplugs do not adjust well to variations in ear size and shape. Since custom earplugs are specifically shaped for each patient, variations in ear size and shape present no problem at all.

3. Cost

Let’s do some quick calculations, starting with foam earplugs.

Assume that you work in an occupation 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 bear 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 high quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or longer, but let’s just say four. The majority of 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 greater sound quality and comfort in return.

Not to mention that by using the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll reduce the waste connected with throwing out over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.

Custom molded earplugs and foam 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 run, significantly less.