These are my purple ear nuggets! I got them from ACS in 2016 after developing hyperacusis; they helped me return to every-day life with all its noise(s) and now allow me to go to the cinema and to gigs again.
They filter the sound you hear, reducing or blocking out the worst/loudest noises while still allowing you to answer the phone or follow conversations around you. (As a downside of that, people who can’t stop talking during performances or folks eating crunchy snacks throughout a movie become more noticeable —as if they weren’t annoying enough…!) As yet I haven’t been able to get used to the different sound of my own voice* when wearing these ear plugs, so I prefer not to talk, but in my case that’s not necessarily a downside.
Custom ear filters not cheap, but I think they are worth the investment; alternatives for someone with hearing sensitivity issues might be to withdraw from a normal working and social life and/or spend months on NHS waiting lists for an audiologist, otologist and/or therapy (if you can even get the referral). Once my GP had confirmed my ears were free from infection and, after syringing, free from wax as well, ACS created moulds of my ears. A couple of weeks later I received my custom hearing protectors, which essentially do the opposite of hearing aids, except there aren’t any batteries involved; you choose a specific ‘strength’ of filter in advance, and if that turns out to provide either insufficient or excess noise reduction, you can opt to buy a different type. All in all the process took 3-4 weeks and a significant amount of money (£170-180 + travel time & expenses), but to me that was less of a price to pay than the alternatives I mentioned would have been.
I started off by wearing my custom ear plugs pretty much all day every day (either in addition to or in place of noise-cancelling headphones), and then slowly reintroducing myself to sounds and noise, by taking out my ‘purple ear nuggets’ and wearing standard in-ear headphones (<£20 Skull Candy earbuds provide a soft, warm, non-screechy sound while blocking out outside noise, yet without leaking much sound themselves); first with pink noise (something I’d already used with my noise cancelling headphones), then without noise (pink or otherwise), and then slowly reintroducing the music and podcasts I love at increasing volume, or wearing no ear buds or ear plugs whatsoever. My aim was to build up my pain threshold in relation to my hearing, and I figured this might work best by practicing with those sounds that I used to love before sound and noise came to equal pain.
Nowadays I only wear hearing attenuation when there are loud sounds around me (building work, loud music I didn’t pick played through crappy speakers, noisy old tube trains, a vacuum cleaner, the washing machine during its spinning cycle, low-flying helicopters and so on), be it at home or elsewhere. I’ve worn my ‘purple ear nuggets’ whenever I’ve gone to the cinema, and at the time of writing this I’ve just attended my first rock gig wearing them (not wanting to force things I didn’t enter the venue until after the support act had finished, only attended the main act, and didn’t stick around for any afterparty).
Custom ear filters like ACS’s are clearly great for gig-goers, clubbers and ravers and the like, and although they can also be a great aid for anyone affected by hyperacusis, they’re by no means perfect for the latter, as they don’t block out the horrid hiss of office air con or rainy-day traffic on wet roads (noise-cancelling headphones** may work better for those).
Also, the little cord ACS supplies with each set of ear plugs is useful to attach when you’re wearing the ear plugs to crowded events where you could be at risk of losing them (it even has a clip to attach to your clothing), but the way the cord itself conducts sound into your ears via the plugs is a hyperacusis sufferer’s nightmare; the same applies to the cream supplied with the plugs: comfortable, perhaps, if you hardly ever wear the plugs, but not pleasant if you’re a regular wearer with hyperacusis or another type of (hyper)sensitivity to sound.
Because I found very little had been written about using custom hearing attenuation as a (fast-tracked) means of dealing with hyperacusis or other hearing sensitivity issues, I decided to write this in the hope it may help someone else in a similar situation to mine.
Please note I am not medically trained and have written this only to share my personal experience and my opinions based on this experience, and not to provide any medical advice. If you have any issues with your hearing, please get yourself seen by a doctor; it’s what I did but perhaps I left it a bit too late — and that’s not something I’d advise anyone.
For more information about the specific hearing protection pictured, go to acscustom.com/uk/products/hearing-protection/pro-series.
To learn more about hearing sensitivity issues, visit braininjurysociety.com/information/acquired-brain-injury/hyperacusis-noise-sensitivity-hearing.
If you do not suffer from any issues relating to your hearing, but you do love music and you love going to clubs or gigs, hearing protection is worth considering, anyway. In my opinion – and I stress, it’s my opinion only, based on personal experience alone – good hearing protection will not take anything away from the immersive experience (whereas turning down the overall sound may) but it does prevent pain and damage.
*This issue – called occlusion – is more of a problem with standard foam earplugs than it is with custom plugs; for me, the problem is not so much the sound of my own voice but rather the volume, in that I have no idea whether I am speaking too loudly or softly when wearing my custom ear plugs.
**Note: If you’re going to invest in noise-cancelling headphones: my Sennheiser PXC 250-II are fab on aeroplanes where everyone’s cell phones are switched off or on the tube in tunnels where there is no signal; but attached to or near some – not all – mobile devices the GSM buzz they pick up can cause sheer agony for anyone with (hyper)sensitive hearing. I had to buy my noise-cancelling headphones in a rush, with no time to research or shop around, but I wish I’d known this before I spent an arm and a leg on them.