Would you skateboard without a helmet? What about swim laps without goggles? Of course not. These devices have been specially designed to protect you, while enabling you to pursue your hobbies. Did you know your ears could also benefit from protection at a loud event, like a rock concert? Have you heard of hearing protection?
One of the most common types of hearing loss is called noise-induced hearing loss. It is caused by exposure to harmful sounds. Noise levels are measured in decibels (dB). Exposure to sound over 85 dB (such as a motorcycle) can cause damage within eight hours, exposure to sound over 100 dB (such as a helicopter) can cause damage within 15 minutes and exposure to a sound over 120 dB (such as a jet engine) can cause damage instantly.
But good news! According to your local Georgetown area audiologist, noise induced hearing loss can easily be prevented. How? By wearing earplugs. If you are in a pinch, earplugs are available in most pharmacies. While there are plenty of fine choices available off the shelf, your ears are unique. A one-size-fits-all earplug can never compete with a custom-made set.
Audiologists create custom earmolds from impressions taken of your ear canal and concha (the outer bowl-shaped portion of your ear). They adhere perfectly to the contours of your ears, providing a superior fit and protection. Custom molds aren’t just made for earplugs; they can be used in a variety of products including headphones and earpieces.
Custom earmolds are generally made from one of three materials: acrylic, vinyl or silicone. Each has their pros and cons.
Acrylic molds have been around the longest. Hard and durable, they are resistant to shrinking and breakage and are the easiest to repair or re-mold. Acrylic molds are simple to insert and remove, and they are easily cleaned using mild detergents. Their biggest disadvantage is their lack of flexibility. They can be difficult to place into narrow or small ear canals, especially those of children. Acrylic molds are also prone to sound leakage and feedback, particularly when the jaw is in motion (e.g., chewing).
Vinyl molds are made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and fall in the middle in terms of hardness. They are softer than acrylic molds, making them a better choice for children and older individuals, and they are fairly easy to insert. A better seal translates to clearer sound for high-gain musical instruments. On the down side, vinyl molds tend to shrink, harden and discolor over time, which means they need to be replaced more often. Because of the manufacturing process, which involves boiling in a saline solution, vinyl molds are not recommended for people with allergies.
Silicone molds are the softest of all varieties. They are extremely flexible and comfortable, provide a tight seal for excellent sound quality and protection and are very durable. They maintain their shape and size over time, and are available in a variety of bright colors and designs, as well as flesh-colored tones. Their flexibility and softness can also be disadvantageous; silicone molds are difficult to insert, especially when new, and are a poor choice for individuals with soft or flaccid ears.
For more information on how to protect your ears, contact your local Cedar Park area audiologist.