Custom molded ear plugs (sometimes called “custom fit ear plugs”) come in three general types:
Professional Lab Custom Molded Ear Plugs
These ear plugs are made by taking impressions of your ears. The impressions are very much like a 3D model of the insides of your ears. Once impressions are made they’re sent to the lab, where a professional team scans your ear impressions and uses them to create a set of custom ear plugs in virtually any color (or combination of colors) from durable, professional, top-quality materials. The finished custom ear plugs are then mailed back to you to use and enjoy for a long time… Professional lab custom molded ear plugs can potentially last for years with proper cleaning and storage. The downside? Professional lab custom molded ear plugs are expensive. Too, it usually takes a few weeks to complete the impression and lab molding process and get the finished ear plugs shipped back to you.
Insta-Mold® Custom-fit Earplugs
These custom-fit ear plugs are usually made “on-the-go” by one of E.A.R’s certified providers. Insta-Mold® custom-fit earplugs can be made in virtually any color (or combination of colors) from durable, professional, top-quality materials (silicone). They can be ready to use the same day. E.A.R’s Certified Provider(s) usually make these silicone custom-fit earplugs for industrial workers, law enforcement, military, and individuals that can’t wait on a pair of professional lab custom-fit earplugs.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Custom Molded Ear Plugs
These “homemade” ear plugs solve the problems associated with custom molded ear plugs: DIY custom molded ear plugs are inexpensive, and they ship quickly and can be ready to use the same day they arrive in the mail. However, all that instant gratification comes at a price. DIY custom molded ear plugs are made of lower-quality material, and without the guidance of experienced custom ear mold specialists. As a result, DIY custom molded ear plugs may not fit as well or block noise nearly as reliably as the professional lab versions. With DIY custom plugs, what you make is what you get, but you can be sure they will fit better than any universal fit ear plugs and for many people, DIY custom plugs are the perfect inexpensive alternative to both lab made custom ear plugs and universal fit ear plugs.
Guide to Earmold Material Selection
Acrylic is a popular hard plastic, generally applicable for hearing aids with gain up to about 55dB. It is easy to insert and remove, and is usually also available in a non-allergic formula as well. An acrylic canal is rigid and may lead to sound leakage during chewing or other facial movement if applied to a high gain aid on a patient with a “flexible face.” On the other end of the spectrum, acrylic earmolds are ideal for many open-fit applications.
The addition of a soft canal to an acrylic mold reduces unwanted feedback due to facial movement while retaining the advantage of the rigid earmold body.
Semi-soft molds made of a fairly rigid vinyl material which softens noticeably at body temperature are used for additional comfort while maintaining ease of insertion, or in an Acrylic/semi-soft canal arrangement where minor facial flexing problems are present.
Soft vinyl — a very popular soft material where allergies are not involved. Excellent for active children in any fitting, as a hard mold could cause injury if the ear were to be struck while playing. Vinyl will shrink with body contact and age, and can harden and discolor as well. Tubing is often difficult to remove for replacement, and new tubing installation normally requires a highly toxic solvent if cementing is desired. Special locking devices can sometimes be used to eliminate the cement, provided they do not distort the shape of the earmold. In open-fit and RIC applications, soft vinyl earmolds are often desirable not only from the comfort aspect, but also as an excellent retainer of the receiver tubing from the hearing instrument.
Regular silicone solves most allergy cases, and is comfortably flexible. A tubing lock is required as cement does not adhere to silicone. This is the purest silicone available.
For the toughest power aid applications, use soft silicone material in a canal or canal-shell style. An accurate impression beyond the second bend is required, but the power/comfort relationship is usually maximized with this fitting. Because of its unsurpassed comfort, this material is replacing the Vinyls in many applications, even where high power hearing aids are not being used. Additionally, soft silicone is an excellent choice for many open-fit and RIC applications.
Polyethylene is a hard material, appropriate for severe allergy cases. Not always a thing of beauty, it may be effective in cases of allergies to silicones.