What is an Earmold?
An earmold is a soft silicone or hard clear plastic piece that is custom molded for an ear. Earmolds can serve many purposes. You might see them in the following applications. Let’s talk about each application.
- With hearing aids
- For hearing protection
- To keep water out of ears when showering or swimming
- For special Bluetooth earbuds, for pilots or recreational listening
- In-ear monitors for musicians
With Hearing Aids
The majority (79%) of hearing aids dispensed today are small behind the ear hearing aids with the receiver in the canal. Typically, these devices are fitted with “domes.” An audiologist will determine the size of the dome appropriate for a hearing aid based on the hearing loss in conjunction with the size of the patient’s ear canal. In some cases, a patient is unable to manipulate the dome and receiver to securely seat it in the ear. In these situations, an earmold makes this much easier to handle. In other cases, the hearing loss is very severe and a dome is not sufficient to provide enough amplification without feedback (whistling from the hearing aid). With more severe hearing losses an earmold is almost always required.
For Hearing Protection
It is estimated that 12.5% of children and teenagers (ages 6-19) and 17% of adults between the ages of 20-69 experience noise induced hearing loss. Noise induced hearing loss is just what it sounds like, hearing loss that comes from loud sounds. These loud sounds fall into one of two basic categories: a one-time exposure to a very loud sound (a gunshot, firecracker, airbag deployment, explosion, a concert) or from exposure to loud sounds over a long period of time (more than 85 dB for 8 hours a day, regularly).
Wearing hearing protection during these times will help to prevent subsequent hearing loss. While there are a variety of over the counter hearing protection solutions available over the counter, custom earmolds are sometimes preferred and have distinct advantages. Over the counter hearing protection, when placed in the ear properly, has the same protective effect as custom protection. But often these pieces are not consistently inserted properly allowing leaks for unwanted sound to leak in. In addition, after wearing these devices for a period of time the ear often becomes sore because it presses on the ear canal unevenly. Custom hearing protection, because it is molded from an impression of the user’s ear, affords consistent insertion and maximum comfort.
Musicians can use special custom hearing protection that is not only molded to their ear but also has a filter to allow some sound to flow through the mold and other sound to be blocked. Hunters often use these type systems, though the filter is often an electronic device that provides more hearing protection when the impact sound (gun shot) occurs.
To Keep Water Out of the Ears While Bathing or Swimming
Some individuals use earmolds (commonly called swim molds) to protect their ears from water. In general, a person can safely get water in their ears; however, some people are prone to external ear infections (swimmers’ ear) and water exacerbates this problem. Others may have chronic middle ear infections that required surgery to insert pressure equalization tubes. Most surgeons advise patients to keep water out of the ears once tubes are placed.
For Special Bluetooth Earbuds for Pilots, Phone Operators or Recreational Listening
When someone uses earbuds regularly, they will often choose to have custom earmolds made to improve comfort and maintain retention. These earmolds are specially designed so that the user can insert earbuds into the molds for extended comfort over time.
In-Ear Monitors for Musicians
In the past musicians suffered from hearing loss often due to the excessive, consistent sound exposure from the instruments, speakers, and monitors. Now they can eliminate the large monitors that sit at the front of the stage and wear the monitors in tiny systems that are encased in custom earmolds. Not only can they hear and control the volume of the music and voices, they can simultaneously protect their hearing. These are used for professional musicians as well as local musicians at small venues and churches.