The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that roughly 12.5% of adolescents aged 6–19 years (approximately 5.2 million) and 17% of adults 20–69 years of age (almost 26 million) have suffered irreversible damage to their hearing from excessive exposure to noise.
More often than not, this type of hearing loss is preventable by safely listening to personal music devices and wearing proper hearing protection when in a loud environment.
Are custom earplugs effective?
The purpose of any earplug is to reduce the volume of sound. And although any earplug will achieve this, there’s more to it than that.
We must first consider that not all sound is created equal. The sounds of speech are heard differently than the sound of background noise. You want to conceal more of the background noise than speech or music. Because sound is dynamic within specific frequencies, they require different handling at different volumes so that particular sounds are not decreased too little or too much.
Therefore, for an earplug to be effective, it needs to do three things. Limit the sound volume appropriately, and deal with many sounds or frequencies distinctly.
Enter custom earplugs. A generic one-size-fits-all (OSFA) foam plug will block out all sound without regard for a specific sound. A custom set of earplugs will give you the edge in attenuating specific sound volumes, comfort, quality, and even cost.
On the other hand, custom earplugs have filters designed to reduce volume across specific frequencies (attenuation) evenly. These filters can be adjusted to decrease volume only by the required amount, and they can screen particular types of sounds more than others, maintaining the quality of speech and music.
For foam earplugs to be effective, they need to create a seal deep within the ear canal, which can create a constant feeling of pressure for most.
However, custom earplugs are molded to the contours of each individual’s ears by a hearing professional, producing a secure and more natural fit and eliminating the feeling of constant pressure inside the canal. Custom earplugs use a soft medical-grade material that will not shrink or change form over time.
On the outside, custom earplugs may seem like a more expensive solution. However, breaking down the math will make you realize it is not always true.
If we do a quick cost analysis:
Suppose you were to work in a profession that required you to use earplugs daily. We can base it on the average cost of $0.17 per pair, using them five days per week (assuming you use the same pair all day). Over a period of four years, we can figure the total cost to be:
$0.17 x 5 days x 52 weeks x 4 years = 176.80 total cost.
Now, let’s compare that $176 to the cost of a pair of custom earplugs.
Today, most custom high-end earplugs can last up to four years, and most custom earplugs cost around $120-$150. Divide that over four years, and you are almost half the disposable plugs’ cost (per week). Furthermore, you get much better sound quality and comfort.
Of course, the cost is just one factor. If you wear the same pair of earplugs for four years, you will eliminate over 1,000 disposable plugs annually.
Are custom earplugs only for those who work in loud environments?
Earplugs do not just have to be worn by people with hearing loss or tinnitus. Instead, they can be used as a protective barrier to sound. This can include musicians and workers often exposed to loud sounds, leading to hearing loss over time. Therefore, earplugs can be used as a preventative measure.
For swimmers, custom earplugs could provide added protection from water entering the ear, which can lead to different types of infection from built-up bacteria. It is always easier to prevent than it is to cure. Plugs can be used anytime and anyplace. Well-made custom plugs will provide you with proper protection.
For more information or to schedule an appointment to speak with an audiologist about custom earplug options, call us today and let Salem Audiology Clinic help you protect your hearing.