The Future of Earmold Impressions

July 10, 2022

The Future of Earmold Impressions

Hearing care experts have been taking physical earmold impressions of your ear canals for years to manufacture personalized devices like hearing aids, hearing aid earmolds, swim plugs, noise protectors, and even in-ear monitors for musicians, utilizing several different materials.

Earmold impressions have traditionally been taken in the following manner:

  1. Inside your ear canal, a foam block is placed at the depth where we want the impression material to stop.
  2. We then combine a range of various compounds to inject into your ear canal, ensuring that imprint material is injected into every minute shape of your ear.
  3. That compound will harden in a few minutes and take the shape of your ear.
  4. The impressions are then sent to an earmold lab or a hearing aid manufacturer, and we wait for the personalized product to come.

This is a way that hearing care providers have been utilizing for years, but it's not without its downsides, as my story below demonstrates.

My story of ear impressions gone wrong

I had a young lady come into the clinic when I was a brand new audiologist fresh out of school because she required a swimming plug for her ear to keep water out when swimming and showering. 

I set her up to take an ear mold imprint. With my otoscope, I examined her ear canal and found everything to be expected. The impression material stopped precisely where I needed it at the correct depth using a foam block. Everything was OK when I injected the silicon compound into her ear to create an impression of her canal, and I let it go for maybe three or four minutes after that for it to harden. When it was time for me to pull the impression out of her ear, it didn't want to come out. And I thought to myself, "What the hell is going on?" 

So I yanked a little harder, and it snapped.

It turned out that the opening of her ear canal was substantially smaller than the opening of her ear canal on the inside. As a result, when the impression material entered that ear canal area, it swelled up and was nearly impossible to remove. I was lucky enough to be working with an otologist at the time and was able to refer her immediately. She ultimately needed surgery to remove the imprint material from her ear canal.

This early-career experience is precisely why I'm so cautious when conducting a physical earmold impression, and it's also why I'm delighted that the company Natus has developed a new way of scanning ears called Otoscan 3D ear scanning.

What is Otoscan 3D Ear Scanning, and how does it work?

Hearing care practitioners can use Otoscan's 3D ear scanning system to create a digital image of an ear, eliminating the requirement for physical impression materials.

Let me explain how it works:

Before beginning the scan, I set a headband on top of my patient's head as a reference point for Otoscan. Otoscan features a guidance gadget that tells us how many millimeters we've gone into your ear canal and alerts us when we've reached the target depth. 

I also prefer to let my patients see what I'm doing by showing them a monitor that displays the ear canal scanning. Viewing the 3D impression on the monitor allows me to point out any specific features of the impression that my patient might find helpful to understand. In just a few minutes, I can make a high-quality impression. 

The benefits of Otoscan 3D Ear Scanning

Overall, 3D ear scanning is on track to eliminate the need for physical imprints as more hearing clinics adopt this cutting-edge technology. This is why:

Higher-quality impressions: Otoscan 3D Ear Scanning can improve the depth of the impression and its accuracy.

More comfortable: Because we never have to inject any physical substance into the ear, we don't need to employ a foam block inside the canal, allowing a far more comfortable impression experience. We're not injecting any materials into the ear canal, so we're not stretching any sensitive areas within the ear, which could lead to an uncomfortable fit with whatever device you obtain.

Faster turnaround: Because these scans are digital, we can immediately send them to the earmold lab and receive them back much faster than if we submitted physical impressions. The digital image can be transferred to an earmold lab to begin production within minutes, avoiding delays caused by transporting physical impressions.

Versatile: It can be utilized for several applications, including performing physical impressions on complex ear canals, such as a canal wall down mastoidectomy. 

Audiology is advancing into the twenty-first century, and 3D ear scanning technology will soon be the norm. But, until then, if you're on the market for custom-fit hearing aids or custom-fit hearing protection and want the most up-to-date earmold impressions, look for a hearing clinic that can scan your ear instead of injecting it.

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