Custom-Molded Silicone Earplug

Just as hearing loss is known as the invisible disability, sound is known as the invisible threat. Without even being alert to it, the sounds we expose ourselves to might be producing permanent hearing loss that grows irreversibly year after year.

Who’s at risk for hearing loss?

An average 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 a deafening 145.

Here’s the issue: repeated exposure to any sound above 85 decibels can result in irreversible hearing loss. That’s the reason why hearing protection is especially crucial for musicians, concert-goers, hunters, and construction workers.

But it’s not as straightforward as just staying away from the sound. Most of us are not willing to resign 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: protecting our hearing by decreasing the volume of the sounds we’re exposed to. Welcome to the world of earplugs.

Disposable versus custom earplugs

The function of any earplug is obvious: lower the volume of sound. And while it’s true that any earplug can achieve this, it turns out that it’s not that simple, for two reasons:

  1. All sound is not created equal—speech is different than background noise, and you’ll want to suppress the latter, not the former.
  2. Sound is dynamic—different frequencies require 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) reduce 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 much better than foam earplugs and have the edge in three vital areas: sound quality, comfort, and cost.

1. Sound Quality

Disposable foam earplugs block all sound and all frequencies, generating what is called the occlusion effect for the user, which is the sense of a “hollow” or “booming” echo-like sound in their own voice. Foam earplugs reduce all-around sound quality and create a claustrophobic feeling.

Custom-molded earplugs, in contrast, have specialized filters for an exact, 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, preserving the quality of music and speech.

2. Comfort

Foam earplugs, to be effective at reducing volume, have to form a deep, tight seal within the ear canal, causing a sustained feeling of pressure, and this “plugged up” perception is practically universal.

Custom earplugs, however, are cast to the curves of each client’s ears by a hearing professional, creating 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 shape.

Additionally, foam earplugs do not adjust well to variations in ear size and shape. Seeing as custom earplugs are specially shaped for each client, variations in ear size and shape create no problem at all.

3. Cost

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

Let’s say 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 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 quality pair of custom earplugs can last four years or more, but let’s just say four. The majority of 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 receive better sound quality and comfort in return.

Not to mention that by wearing the same custom earplugs for four years, you’ll avoid the waste connected with discarding over 1,000 pairs of disposable earplugs.

Custom molded earplugs and foam earplugs will both decrease 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, much less.

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