Human ears can only safely handle so much noise.
Even with long-term exposure, sounds of less than 75 decibels aren’t likely to result in a loss of hearing. However, repeated exposure to sounds higher than 85 decibels can result in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). And the louder the sound level, the sooner it can take to experience hearing issues.
If you happen to be exposed to higher decibels on a regular basis, as may be the case in certain work-related environments, you may benefit from custom ear protectors.
What Are Custom Ear Protectors?
Customized ear protectors are laboratory-made earplugs that match the unique characteristics of each ear. An audiologist can take the necessary impressions during a regular clinic visit. Customized ear devices are usually made of acrylic or soft silicone.
The advantage of using softer materials is that a snug fit is still achieved even when you are talking or chewing since the material can adjust its shape without breaking its protective seal. Lubricant is usually used (and included with the pouch or case) to make custom protectors easier to insert.
How Are They Different from Disposable Earplugs?
Disposable foam earplugs are only meant to be used once or twice before being discarded, unless you invest in expensive ones that can be cleaned and reused. The problem with disposable earplugs is the way they’re designed to squish down and expand in the ear canal (external acoustic meatus). Depending on the surrounding temperature, this process can take a few minutes or longer.
Also, you may not get sufficient noise protection if foam earplugs aren’t snug enough, or if they haven’t fully expanded. They also tend to get dirty easier, and they can sometimes come loose when being worn. Harder plastic earplugs, while sometimes offering a better fit, can be uncomfortable or irritate the skin inside of the ear.
Benefits of Customized Earplugs
For starters, custom ear protectors are designed to fit well. They can be crafted in a way that ensures you’ll put them in right because there will only be one way for them to be inserted. Quality silicone earplugs can last anywhere from 3-5 years or longer, with proper care, which means you won’t have to continuously buy disposables.
You also won’t have a feeling of isolation when wearing them, since custom earplugs won’t block every single sound. They’ll minimize your exposure to higher decibels, but they won’t leave you in complete silence. There is a “break-in period” and a learning curve for some first-time wears, although an audiologist can help you learn how to properly use and care for your new customized earplugs.
Who May Benefit from Custom Ear Protectors?
Anyone who is looking for protection against loud sounds can benefit from custom ear protectors. This includes people working in “noisy occupations” and individuals likely to be around loud noises throughout their day. Custom protection inserts can also come in handy if you regularly attend concerts, play in a band, or live in an area with a noisy outdoor environment.
Even when using custom ear protectors, it’s still important to have regular hearing evaluations if you’ll be using such devices to protect your ears from regular exposure to loud noises. Not all signs of hearing loss are obvious. It’s entirely possible that some degree of damage may have been done before you started using custom ear protectors. Even if this isn’t the case, it never hurts to err on the side of caution when it comes to your hearing.