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How (And Where) to Get Custom Earplugs: Step by Step

October 9, 2023
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

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How (And Where) to Get Custom Earplugs: Step by Step

As an audiologist, I've worked with many patients with hearing loss and helped patients with strategies for hearing loss prevention. One tool that can help are custom earplugs. While disposable earplugs may be convenient, they often do not provide a good fit and can even cause discomfort or irritation. This is where custom earplugs come in - they are designed to fit your ear canal perfectly, providing both comfort and protection. In this article, I will walk you through the process of getting custom earplugs so you can enjoy your favorite activities without worrying about damaging your hearing.

Who should get custom earplugs?

While the common perception is that custom earplugs are primarily beneficial for individuals exposed to loud noises at concerts or sporting events, they actually have some other uses you might not think of. For water sports enthusiasts, custom earplugs can keep their ears healthy. They help prevent water from entering the ear canal during swimming, reducing the risk of infections such as swimmer's ear, a common problem among swimmers frequenting lakes and rivers.

Furthermore, in today's fast-paced world, peace and quiet is a luxury many yearn for, especially when it comes to a night of restful sleep. For light sleepers or those living in noisy environments, custom earplugs could be the solution you need. They can effectively block out ambient noise, providing a quiet, tranquil environment to enhance the quality of your sleep. Therefore, anyone seeking to minimize noise interference during sleep could benefit from a pair of custom earplugs.

Anyone who is regularly exposed to loud noise should wear hearing protection. While there are many options, proper fitting is one of the most essential parts of hearing protection. Custom earplugs take the guesswork out of proper insertion technique, fitting your precise ear canal anatomy for optimal protection comfortably. This includes musicians, construction workers, hunters, and even regular concert-goers. Custom earplugs can also benefit those with sensitive ears or are prone to ear infections, as they can prevent outside debris from entering the ear canal.

How are they different from other earplugs?

Disposable earplugs are typically made from foam, silicone, or rubber and are designed and are either designed for one-time use or reused for a short time. While they can effectively reduce noise levels, they often do not provide a good seal in the ear canal, which can compromise their effectiveness. Other styles of earplugs, such as double or triple flange, come in different sizes, but they still may only fit some people's unique ear canal shape.

On the other hand, custom earplugs are made from a mold of your ear canal, ensuring a precise and comfortable fit. They are typically made from medical-grade silicone or acrylic materials, making them durable and long-lasting. Custom earplugs can also be designed to cater to specific needs, such as providing filters that reduce noise levels according to your preference. This customization makes them a popular choice among musicians and concert-goers. Filters reduce the volume evenly across the frequency bands, preserving sound quality while reducing the volume to your preference (e.g., 9 dB, 15 dB, etc.).

Where to get custom earplugs

Custom earplugs are available through audiologists, hearing aid clinics, and some specialty retailers. When getting custom earplugs, it's crucial to seek out a qualified professional with experience in molding and fitting custom earplugs. An audiologist or hearing instrument specialist are hearing healthcare professionals who are trained to take ear impressions. The process will involve several appointments, the first for taking ear impressions and selecting your earplugs, and the second appointment to fit you with the custom earplugs. The clinician will also provide proper instructions on how to clean and maintain your new earplugs.

How the process works

The first step in getting custom earplugs is to schedule an appointment with a provider who offers this service. During your appointment, the provider will use a special type of putty to make a cast of your ear canal. This process is painless and takes only a few minutes. Let's go through the steps:

1. The first step is otoscopy. Looking in the ears is essential to examine the shape of your ear canal and check for earwax build-up. Any earwax impaction needs to be removed before proceeding to the next steps.

2. Next, the clinician will place a cotton or foam block in the ear canal using an ear curette with a light to place the block past the second bend in the ear canal. The block marks off the portion of the ear canal for the impression and prevents impression material from reaching the ear canal.

3. After the block is in place, the impression material is placed in the ear, using either an ear gun filled with silicone material or a syringe with the material. As it goes in, the material will feel cold. You may also feel slight pressure as your ear is filled with the material. 

4. Next, you'll wait for the ear impression material to harden. This will take about five minutes. You'll enjoy a quiet break during this part, as it will sound like you're wearing earplugs. It helps to move your jaw or yawn as the impression sets - this helps capture normal jaw movement for comfort.

5. After the material is set, it's time to remove the impression. The clinician will start by gently loosening the material from the ear to break the pressure seal. Then, the impression will be gently removed from the ear.

6. The clinician will then examine the ear impression to ensure it fully captures the anatomy. They'll also look in the ear with the otoscope following the procedure. They'll redo the impression a second time, for example, if there are air bubbles.

What happens next?

Your clinician will ask you some questions to ensure the correct earplug order. For example, you'll want to select a color or color combination. You'll choose the type of earplug you want, with popular options including sleep earplugs, swim plugs, or musician's earplugs. The kind of earplug will also change the material or style slightly. For example, swimmer's earplugs are lightweight and float in water, while musician's earplugs are designed to hold changeable filters.

Then, the ear impressions will be sent to an earmold lab to make your earplugs. This is about a two to three-week turnaround until your clinic gets the custom earplugs back. Once your earplugs are ready, you will return to your provider for a fitting. This will ensure they fit properly and are comfortable to wear for extended periods.

How to care for your custom earplugs

To keep your custom earplugs in tip-top shape, following proper care instructions is essential. Here are some tips:

  • Clean: Wash your earplugs with mild soap and warm water after use. Dry them thoroughly before placing them back in their carrying case.
  • Store: Keep your custom earplugs in their designated case to prevent damage or loss.
  • Avoid heat: Keep your earplugs away from extreme temperatures, as this can cause them to warp or become damaged.
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Conclusion 

In conclusion, custom earplugs can be great for hearing protection, swimming, or sleeping. These earplugs provide a precise and comfortable fit tailored to each individual's unique ear canal shape. This ensures effective noise reduction for protection and enhanced sound quality for music enthusiasts. Meanwhile, for swimmers they offer a reliable barrier against water intrusion, and for those seeking a good night's sleep, they provide an effective shield against disruptive noise. With the proper care and maintenance, these custom earplugs are a durable and long-lasting investment in your ear and hearing health and overall well-being. Whether you're a construction worker, musician, swimmer, or a light sleeper, custom earplugs cater to your specific needs, offering unparalleled comfort and effectiveness.

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