Earmolds for Hearing Aids: Choosing the Best for You
If you’re shopping for hearing aids or currently wear them, you are probably used to hearing about the newest technological bells and whistles. But there’s a feature that can make a huge difference in your experience with behind-the-ear hearing aids that doesn’t get as much attention: the earmolds—the part of the device that fits into the ear.
Earmolds play a key role in enhancing your hearing, and the choice between the two varieties—hard and soft—can feel difficult. Here, HearingTracker takes a closer look at each type, so you can make sure you are getting what you need.
Earmolds: Understanding the basics
Just like fingerprints, the shape of a person’s ear is unique. For that reason, many people find a personalized earmold to be the perfect solution. A well-fitted earmold stays put and delivers high-quality results. Earmolds are available in an array of shapes, like full shell, half-shell, and skeleton, to best suit a person’s specific needs. Considerations for which style is best include degree of hearing loss severity, manual dexterity, and ear anatomy (some people have narrow or “bendy” ear canals).
A behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid with standard tubing and a half-shell silicone earmold.
Making an earmold
Each earmold is custom-fit, with an audiologist making impressions of your ears to create a precisely sized and shaped product. This is a pain-free process. First, a soft, protective block made of cotton or foam is put in the ear, and then a putty molding material is added, which hardens in just a few minutes. Both materials are then removed, and the audiologist sends off the impression of your ears to be fabricated into a set of earmolds.
Some hearing audiologists opt for a more modern technique when taking earmolds—3D ear scanning! To create a 3D ear scan, your audiologist would use a special device that uses a ring laser to scan the anatomy of the outer ear and ear canal. The scan is translated into a 3D model in real time, and the whole process takes about 3 minutes to complete. The 3D model would then be transmitted over the internet to the earmold fabricator.
A mold or 3D model of your outer ear is required in order to fabricate a fully-custom earmold.
When your earmold(s) arrive from the manufacturer, your audiologist will connect them to your hearing aids and let you try them. Correct fit is imperative, so don’t hesitate to give your audiologist honest feedback if the molds don’t feel comfortable when they arrive.
What to know about hard earmolds
Earmolds, which usually cost between $150 to $300 for a pair, come in two varieties: hard acrylic or soft silicone (or sometimes soft vinyl). Many people feel that hard acrylic earmolds are superior when it comes to comfort. For adults new to hearing aids, specialists sometimes recommend hard earmolds for better sound quality and retention.
Attributes related to the ear can play a role in determining which type will work best. “Acrylic molds can be helpful if a patient has skin that is a bit looser or thinner as they can be easier to insert than silicone molds,” explained Emily Hehl, AuD, audiologist at Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, in Columbus, OH, in a conversation with HearingTracker.
What wearers have to say about hard earmolds
Here are what a couple of hard earmold devotees have to say:
- “Sound and comfort are what I enjoy with the hard ones,” said Cecilia James, who is profoundly deaf and has used both soft and hard earmolds. “It's like choosing a pair of quality speakers — the sounds are balanced.”
- “They seem to trap less sweat and cause less earwax buildup,” added Jai Lloyd, another person who favors hard earmolds.
Soft silicone earmolds: Taking a closer look
Yet not all hearing-aid users experience that level of comfort with acrylic earmolds. “Silicone molds are great for most patients as they tend to be more comfortable than the hard acrylic, and they are more easily modified in the office, if needed,” noted Hehl.
Also, the degree of hearing loss can be a determining factor. Those with severe to profound hearing loss tend to do better with soft earmolds, as the pliable material better seals in sound. These can be made with a variety of vents and can even be fully occluded, meaning they seal the ear canal completely and allow for optimal sound for those with severe to profound hearing loss.”
What wearers have to say about soft earmolds
Fans of soft earmolds shared the following comments:
- “I’ve had soft silicone earmolds for three years now and have had no issues at all,” said Jill Peterson, who has worn hearing aids since she was a child. In the past, poorly fit hard earmolds had rubbed against her ears, causing tender spots.
- “They fit flush with my ear and are so comfortable,” Tarra Stanley, who’s worn hearing aids since her 20s, told HearingTracker. “I don’t even feel them!” Stanley previously found hard earmolds to cause ringing in her ears.
- “Silicone earmolds allow for more versatility in design. I have pink, white, and glitter swirl earmolds because I figure you might as well have fun with your hearing aids if you need to wear them,” observed Melissa Coviello.
Making your earmold decision
So how to know which earmold is best for you? Audiologists will make a recommendation based on your hearing loss and other factors, but if either would suit, the best earmold is ultimately the one that’s most comfortable for you. For every person who loves the soft silicone molds, there’s someone else who believes the hard acrylic ones are superior. Michelle Nazare, who has worn both hard and soft earmolds and likes them equally, said, “If they are made well and fit well, both are great.”
A final note: When using either kind of earmold, always check with your audiologist if you experience pain or develop any new ear issues. Your ear-health professional can then trouble-shoot and help remedy the situation. Also, consider talking to your audiologist about hearing aid domes to see if you’re a candidate.