Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Add A Cord, Subtract Quantity: Laser Lite Ear Plugs With Cords Are Not Great.

The Good: Relatively inexpensive, Disposable, Effective, One size fits all.
The Bad: Prolonged use may damage the ear canal, Cord seems largely unnecessary to me, Proportionately expensive.
The Basics: Mediocre hearing protection, Laser-Lite's Foam Earplugs With Cord do not solve any of the basic earplug problems while offering a quasi-convenient cord.

I am a big fan of saving my ability to hear. Who would have guessed, I actually want to hear the world around me?! The truth is, because I have worked very hard to protect my ears, I am often able to hear ranges that many adults have lost which serves me well as a music reviewer. Sadly, it also means I'm far less fun at parties because I do not like things like loud music. However, I have no qualms about being social, so long as I can wear a pair of earplugs. Generally, when those circumstances arise, I wear Laser Lite Foam Earplugs. I do NOT wear the ones with cords. The reasons for this are simple: they are far more obvious and they are proportionately more expensive. I'm not big on paying more for something that is more obtrusive.

Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs come in two essential variations: with a cord and without. I generally go with the ones without. The ones with a cord have a plastic wire attaching the earplugs to one another. The plastic cord is a flexible, sixteen inch long wire which is embedded in the foam earplugs. This connects both earplugs to one another, lessens the chance that earplugs might get lost and offers idiots a chance to make your life hell in work or party situations by pulling on them.

Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are one-inch long cylindrical foam earplugs that are 3/8" in diameter at their base and about 3/4" wide at the end that sticks out of the ears. They are multicolored (pink and yellow) which makes them easy to see and they come in little plastic bags with two per bag. The 200 count box is a standard size at most businesses that have them and the dispenser box has one hundred bags with the pairs of earplugs in them. This is proportionately much more expensive than the non-corded variety as the non-corded ones cost about the same amount for 500! The plastic bags have a perforation that makes them easy to open and remove the earplugs from them.

Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are exceptionally easy to use. Simply tear open the bag with the pair of earplugs and carefully remove them (one at a time would be recommended) from the bag. Press the smaller end with your fingers to compress the foam earplug and carefully insert into the ear canal. The earplug should have the thicker end - which is easily recognizable because the end flares out with two tapers - protruding from the ear canal. Holding that thicker end, allow the tapered end to expand to fill the ear canal. Repeat with the other earplug. The process of inserting the earplugs and waiting for them to expand takes less than a minute.

So inserted, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs are remarkably effective at muting loud noises. Ambient sound above 35 decibels is muted, so loud factory noises become less pounding. Lower noises may still be heard, but things like metal impacting on metal (I worked in a plant making pipes for buses) lose the reverberations from ringing. In other words, these earplugs very effectively take the edge off loud sounds.

The problem with using these foam earplugs comes from prolonged use. Because the earplugs expand to fill the ear canal, they are pressed right up against the skin inside and the inside of the ear canal has tiny hairs. Removal and reinsertion of Laser Lite Earplugs over the course of several days may tear out those hairs and dry out the ear canal. The friction from pulling the earplugs out causes wear on the ear canal. Within two weeks of wearing two pairs of these a day and my ear canal had scabs inside. It was at that point that I went to wearing a single pair a day (not removing them during lunch) and even then, my ear canal did not heal up (instead, it just did not get any worse). That was when I had to go to earmuff style hearing protection.

The fundamental problem here is a design one. In order to make the Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs they have to be compressed before inserting them and then let them expand so they hold in place. Unless one has some form of freakish ears that allow them to compress the earplug again while inside the ear canal and then pull them out, they will always tear at the hairs and skin inside the ear canal when being removed. While initially this may not cause any problems for the user, prolonged usage involving pushing the earplugs in and taking them out essentially exfoliates the tender skin inside the ear and causes problems for the user.

Used occasionally, Howard Leight Laser Lite Foam Earplugs do exactly what they are supposed to do and may nicely protect one's ability to hear when in loud conditions (I still have some I wear to loud concerts in order to protect my hearing and these quite nicely allow me to hear music from live bands like Paramour without being deafened or getting a headache without losing any of the range of the performance), but they are best used as a temporary measure. Anyone who is considering getting a full box of these for personal use may want to consider a different style of hearing protection as the damage from these may be more than simply uncomfortable. I've never had such a problem with the uncorded variety that I've seen the design benefit of having the cord. Both styles still agitate the ear canal with prolonged use.

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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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