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Motorcyclists get shot with silicone to make custom earplugs

December 08, 2012|By David Colker
  • Audiologist Marilyn Navia shoots silicone into Norman Kajikawa's ear canal to make a custom earplug.
Audiologist Marilyn Navia shoots silicone into Norman Kajikawa's… (David Colker / Los Angeles…)

At the Progressive International Motorcycle Show going on this weekend at the Long Beach Convention Center, there's an odd sight at a few booths: people with large plastic syringes in their ears, getting shot with globs of colorful silicone.

It's not a new body-modification fad, but instead the making of custom earplugs. 

Wearing ear protection while riding is important -- researchers have found that motorcyclists who don't wear some sort of earplugs while riding can suffer hearing loss. The problem is not so much engine noise, experts say, but rather the constant rush of wind across the ear, even under a full-face helmet.

Disposable earplugs are widely available, but they're not very comfortable and are difficult to fit correctly in the ear. Also, they become ineffective after just a few uses.

Custom-made silicone earplugs cost more, but if made correctly, they're far easier to use and can last years. 

Florida-based audiologist Marilyn Navia has been offering them for many years at motorcycle shows. She has two models for sale at the Long Beach show -- plain custom plugs for $60 and custom plugs with embedded earphones for $230.

Norman Kajikawa, a dentist who lives in Walnut, wanted a set. And not just for protection.

"I have a communication system in my helmet," he said as Navia prepared his ears for the process. "But I can't hear through the speakers."

Navia pressed colored silicone into the back of a plastic syringe. She put the pointed end in Kajikawa's ear and pressed hard on the plunger, filling the outer canal with the stuff. She smoothed it over (any protruding silicone would press uncomfortably against the side of a close-fitting helmet) and moved on to the other ear.

After letting the silicone sit in his ears for a few minutes to harden, she popped out the molds, which will be sent to a lab to have the earphones embedded. The plain plugs are polished on site at the show and usually ready the same day.

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