When I became an audiologist over ten years ago, I did so intending to help as many people as possible with a basic life challenge: losing your ability to hear. To me, helping people hear better isn’t just a job. It’s a way to help people enjoy their lives and to comfort people having difficulties. And that’s why I’m so excited about the newest addition to Big Thicket Hearing Aids and Audiology: a 3D ear scanner.
I get it – this probably doesn’t sound as exciting to you as it does to me and my fellow audiologists. But it’s a big deal for our clinic, and we hope to help many patients with this new technology over the coming months and years.
What Is 3D Ear Scanning?
To understand what 3D ear scanning is, it helps to understand how hearing aids were made before this technology came onto the scene.
Hearing aids are precision pieces of technology. One key to making sure they work well to correct an individual’s hearing loss is ensuring a good fit. And because every patient’s ear is different, that means making a custom mold of the interior of their ears.
In the past, this process could be messy and uncomfortable. Audiologists had to place a small plug of foam or cotton against the patient’s eardrum, and then use a small syringe to fill the ear canal with a soft paste. This paste fills the ear canal and hardens into a flexible impression of the patient’s ear, providing an exact mold of the shape and size. This mold would then be used to create a precisely-fitted hearing aid.
Unfortunately, many patients find this process uncomfortable. It’s also time-consuming, as each ear must be examined, and a cast must be made on both sides individually. But until recently, we had no other way to get an accurate map of a patient’s ear.
How 3D Ear Scans are Different
3D ear scanning solves many of the problems with traditional ear casts. The process of taking a 3D scan is faster, less invasive, and much more comfortable for both the patient and the audiologist.
Unlike the traditional putty-in-ear method, 3D ear scans don’t require a cast to be made at all. Instead, a special handheld device that uses a camera and several lasers takes precise measurements inside the patient’s ear. The scanner combines these measurements into a precise, detailed 3D model. That model can then be sent electronically to a hearing aid manufacturer, and they can use it to make precision-fit hearing aids that are tailored exactly to a patient’s ears.
Why am I so excited about this system? Here are the big reasons:
Less Mess – With 3D ear scanning, we no longer need to use cotton plugs and casting putty to take impressions of patients’ ears. 3D scans are clean and straightforward, with no mixing or syringes required.
Less Time – 3D scans are faster to complete than traditional putty molds. Each ear can be scanned in just a few minutes in a simple, minimally invasive process. Compare that to the 10 to 15 minutes it takes for silicone putty to cure in the ear, and you can see why patients prefer the scans!
Less Discomfort – While we do our best to make ear impressions simple, the fact is that some people just don’t like the sensation of having their ears filled with casting putty. In contrast, patients who have had 3D scans say the sensation feels like “a little tickle” in their ear.
Faster Turnaround – One of the best things about 3D scans is that they are electronic, which means they can be sent over the internet to hearing aid manufacturers immediately after the scans are done. Traditional ear molds had to be shipped through the mail, and then the manufacturer would need to make a reverse mold from the original in order to create an earpiece. The new process makes the whole process faster, which means patients get their hearing aids sooner.
More Accuracy – Ear casts offer a good picture of a patient’s ear canal, but they aren’t perfectly accurate. On the other hand, 3D scanners take detailed scans of the entire ear canal. These scans capture much more data than silicone molds do, meaning more accurate measurements and a better fit for a patient’s hearing aids.
Visit Big Thicket Hearing Aids and Audiology Today
I am very excited to make 3D ear scanning part of our practice here at Big Thicket. We’re the first audiology clinic in our region to get anything like this scanner, and we can’t wait to help our clients with it. We don’t just believe it will help make patients happier and more comfortable. We think it will help us serve more people and bring high-quality hearing care to our community at prices our patients can afford. If you’re ready to learn more about improving your hearing, contact our center today and schedule your appointment.
I’m looking forward to working with you on your hearing journey!
Dr. Joni Ruiz is the owner and Doctor of Audiology at Big Thicket Hearing Aids and Audiology. She earned her doctorate of audiology in 2009 from Lamar University in Beaumont, TX. Selected for a prestigious fourth-year externship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., Dr. Ruiz has more than ten years’ experience as an Audiologist. She has a heart for patient-centered care. At her hearing care practice, she performs comprehensive diagnostic audiological evaluations, provides aural rehabilitation to her patients and their loved ones, dispenses state of the art hearing aids, and manages the care of said devices for their life. Dr. Ruiz is dedicated to patient education regarding hearing loss, hearing protection, and hearing aid selection.