I was at my son’s soccer game when a super-fast, skilled soccer player zoomed past us – with bright blue ear molds in his ears. He was one of the first children with hearing aids that we saw outside of an intentional setting.
We marveled at him, not only for his above-average soccer skills, but also how tough he looked in those stunning blue ear molds. When my son first got his hearing aids, I hadn’t seen colorful ear molds in person so, we went with what seemed like a good choice – clear. But as my son and I watched this confident soccer player, we decided that we too would get bright blue ear molds.
Now, as a mother that has gone through the process of getting my son hearing aid ear molds many times, I have a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
Ear molds are the part of the hearing aid system that fit directly into the ear canal. Usually they are made of vinyl or silicone that is custom-made for the child’s ear.
Each material has benefits and some disadvantages, according Beth Rosales, an audiologist at Easter Seals.
“A soft material is needed for comfort for kids,” she says. “Kids ears get bumped and jostled a lot (babies being held or rolling on the ground, kids playing, etc.,) so soft material is necessary.
According to Dr. Rosales, both vinyl or silicone can work well, but there are differences. For example, vinyl doesn’t come in as many colors, and can shrink and discolor over time. However, the material is still flexible and can be easier to put into tiny ears. On the other other hand, silicone is harder to put into ears, as it sticks to the skin, but has a lot more color options.
While there are a lot of different styles of ear molds, most audiologists will suggest a custom-made, full shell, ear mold for children.
For my children, choosing colorful ear molds has been a fun and empowering experience. Choosing their own colors gives my children autonomy and excitement about their hearing aids. While this part of the hearing aid has no actual technology, it has a vital role to play.
Back in the day, I remember only seeing skin-colored hearing aids; the classic beige. Thankfully, Phonak has a range of pediatric hearing aids with more than 1,000 color combinations. Plus, you can add additional stickers to personalize the aids. But, creating the perfect hearing aid doesn’t stop there. With bright colors and options to add swirls and sparkles, the possibilities for custom ear molds are endless.
When my older child first got his hearing aids, we choose an awesome techy-looking, Phonak Sky Q hearing aid with blue and gray, but we choose a clear ear mold. Now, going through this a second time, we got Sayge the white Phonak Sky V hearing aid, so that we can switch out the ear mold colors as we go. We love the way it looks with the bright pink swirl ear mold.
If the ear mold is not functioning perfectly or does not fit perfectly, the hearing aid can not work its magic. My 7-month-old daughter, Sayge, just got fitted for her second pair of ear molds. As an infant, Sayge loves to pull out her hearing aids and rub them on her teething gums. Pretty quickly she was able to tear a hole in the tubbing. After taking the ear molds to our audiologist, we learned it was irreparable and needed to be replaced. Sadly, she was not able to wear the hearing aid until the new mold came back.
It’s important to keep a close eye on your child’s hearing aids, especially when they are infants. Hearing aids are fragile, and it’s necessary to care for them so your child can get the full benefit from them.
My four-year-old son gets new ear molds every 6-8 months, but as my son’s growing slows I am hoping this reduces to about every year.
“The ear mold needs to fit well so that it is comfortable to wear first and foremost,” says Anna Biggins, Phonak audiologist and Ask Anna columnist. “It doesn’t matter how good the hearing aids are if the ear mold is a bad fit. If they are uncomfortable they will not stay in the ear very long.”
While I am sure there are many ways to tell if an ear mold is fitting properly, for me there are two main issues I look out for: feedback and fit.
Feedback is a ringing sound that happens when the speaker and microphone get too close together. When I begin to hear feedback more often than usual, I tune into the possibility that the mold is coming out more often because of a poor fit. When I have to adjust the ear mold often, I know it’s time to get an appointment in the audiologist.
The second sign I look for is the fit of the hearing aid inside the ear. If there is any room around the ear mold, I know it is time to make an appointment.
If you’re unsure if your child’s ear mold needs to be replaced the best thing to do is ask your audiologist. We have felt so lucky to have had amazing audiologists throughout our children’s hearing loss journey who have given us endless support.
When I have come to the realization that one of my children needs new ear molds, I plan for the process to take 2-4 weeks. The reason for time is that there are two appointments that have to be made. The first is the impression of the ear mold, and second is the fitting of the ear mold.
Make sure you’re not going on holiday and that you have time to complete the process as quickly as possible. You don’t want your child to go without a proper fitting ear mold for an extended period of time.
While my children are getting their new ear molds, we do a lot of distracting and entertaining to keep them distracted.
First, the audiologist places a sting inside the ear canal. After the string is inserted, the mold material is mixed. The texture of the mixture is like gum and play dough. The audiologist places the goop, which in our experience has been pink, into a syringe. Then they fill the ear with the pink material. The mold needs at least 5 minutes to set. This can be tricky with an infant, so we do a lot of distraction to make sure Sayge does not pull at the unset ear mold. Once the mold has set, the audiologist pulls it out and insures that the impression is good. The audiologist then sends the impressions off to a company that make the actual ear mold.
Ear molds can make a dramatic impact on the function of the hearing aid, and choosing a fun color is a great first step to encouraging your child to embrace them.
If you are a parent of a child with hearing loss, you probably have experienced a whirlwind of emotions – especially in the beginning. Feelings of shame or guilt might be some of those emotions. While this can be strange, these emotions can impact how you choose what color ear mold and hearing aid you choose for your child.
I have been there and know those feelings. However, experience has told me that no matter that what color you choose for your child, you cannot undo their hearing loss. There is no hiding those hearing aids, and there really isn’t any reason to! Help your child embrace their hearing aids by embracing them yourself. Once you see the impact their hearing aids make in their learning and development, you’ll realize that their hearing loss won’t stop them from living the life you’ve dreamed for them.