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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

What Are Ear Impressions?

Picture of ear, to demonstrate ear impressions.

If you’ve seen an audiologist regarding your hearing, you may have been told that impressions will need to be taken of your ears.  Ear impressions will be required whenever a mould of your ear needs to be made.  Moulds are sometimes used as part of a hearing aid, to secure the fitting of the hearing aid to your ears and help improve sound quality. Likewise, if you are getting fitted with an in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid, then the entire hearing aid is essentially a mould of your ear. Moulds can also take the form of custom fitted earplugs, to help block out uncomfortable and potentially dangerous levels of sound.  So, what exactly are ear impressions, and what can you expect if you need to have them done?

An ear impression is a way of making a cast of your ear, that will usually include almost the full length of the ear canal, as well as a portion of the external part of the ear, known as the pinna.  Different audiologists will use different tools for this procedure, but the overall process is generally similar across all practitioners. 

The outer ear and ear canal will first be carefully inspected to ensure it is free of wax, foreign bodies, and infection.  The audiologist will also check for any anomalies of the ear, such as a perforated eardrum.  Using a lighted tool (an "otolight"), they will then place a small piece of foam or cotton (an “otoblock”) deep down the ear canal, to protect the delicate eardrum.  This is typically a painless process, although occasionally some people will feel a little bit of pressure while the foam is inserted.  The placement of the otoblock can also trigger a reflex to cough in some people, which is completely normal.  The ear canal will then be inspected again to ensure that the eardrum is well protected. 

Lighted tool ("otolight") used to place a small piece of foam ("otoblock") down the ear canal during an ear impression.
Lighted tool ("otolight") used to place a small piece of foam ("otoblock") down the ear canal during an ear impression.

Following placement of the otoblock, a special syringe or gun will be used to place a putty-like paste into your ears.  This is completely painless but will give you a sensation of being “blocked up” and you won’t hear well while the putty is in your ears.  It is usually recommended to stay still and quiet during this part of the impression, as movement, particularly of the mouth/jaw, could alter the accuracy of the mould of your ears.  Sometimes, though, an “open jaw” impression will be recommended, to specifically consider how the shape of the ear canal is affected by having the mouth open. 

An example of an ear impression syringe, with tubs of impression paste.
An example of an ear impression syringe, with tubs of impression paste.

After several minutes, the impression paste will dry and harden, and a cast will be made of your ear.  The audiologist will carefully remove the completed impression and will then inspect your ears once again.  Occasionally, your ear canals may feel slightly sore after the impression, but this will typically settle within a day or two.  The completed impressions are then sent to a laboratory that will manufacture the moulds of your ears. 

An alternative to the above procedure is that a 3D scan can be taken of your ears using specialised equipment.  This is completely non-invasive.  However, due to the expense of this equipment, this has not yet become standard practice amongst audiologists.

The entire ear impression procedure usually doesn’t take more than ten or fifteen minutes, and most people find it to be an easy, comfortable experience.  The moulds or custom fitted hearing aids will usually take a week or two to be fabricated. Once the moulds are back from the lab, you will typically see your audiologist again for a fitting, to ensure everything is comfortable and working well.

If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.

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