Dr. Cliff Olson, Audiologist and founder of Applied Hearing Solutions in Phoenix Arizona, discusses the future of performing earmold impressions using 3D laser scanning technology
For years hearing care professionals have been using a variety of different impression materials to take earmold impressions of your ear canals in order to create custom Hearing Aids, Swim Plugs, Hearing Aid Earmolds, Hearing Protection, and In-ear-monitors for musicians. Traditionally, earmold impressions are performed by first placing a foam block inside of your ear canal at the depth that we want the impression material to stop. We then mix together a variety of different compounds, in this case silicone, and place it inside of a syringe. Next, we carefully inject this soft silicone material into your ear canal, ensuring that we get impression material into every small contour of your ear. After a few minutes, the compound has hardened, taking the shape of your ear. Then we mail this impression off to an earmold lab or hearing aid manufacturer, and wait for the custom product to arrive.
This method is what hearing care professionals have been doing for years, but using traditional earmold impression techniques also come with several drawbacks. In my first year as an audiologist I performed an earmold impression on a patient and I was not able to remove the material out of her ear canal because the opening of her canal was more narrow than the deeper portion of her canal. She needed surgery to remove this material from her ear.
This experience early in my career is why I am so extremely cautious when performing ear mold impressions, and one of the main reasons why I am so happy that Natus has Otoscan. Otoscan is the first 3D Ear Scanning solution that hearing care professionals can use to make a digital impression of an ear, and it eliminates eliminating the need to use physical impression material. However, safety isn't the only reason to use 3D ear scanning. It also helps with complicated ear canals to perform impressions on, such as those who have had a canal wall down mastoidectomy. It helps to improve the depth of impression, and the accuracy of the impression. Finally, it helps with the speed in which we can receive earmolds from a manufacturer because the manufacturer receives the impressions almost instantly.
With 3D ear scanning, an impression can be taken in only a few minutes, and viewing the 3D impression on the monitor allows me to point out any specific aspects of the impression that may be beneficial for my patients to understand. Which makes the Otoscan not only an excellent tool for scanning an ear, but also an excellent tool to use in counseling.
Overall, I believe that 3D ear scanning is poised to make taking physical ear impressions a thing of the past as clinics continue to progressively adopt this advanced technology. Audiology is working its way into the 21st Century, and some day 3D scanning will become the norm. Until then, if you want the latest and greatest when it comes to Earmold impressions, make sure that you find a clinic that can scan your ears instead of injecting your ears.