• By Ethan Grove

3D Anatomic Modeling Lab printing ear-loop mask attachments for staff

April 27, 2020
white ear loop mask attachments lined up on a tray

In an effort to provide their colleagues some much needed relief, staff at the 3D Anatomic Modeling Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Rochester are 3D printing attachments for ear-loop masks to help take the pressure off of colleagues' ears.

The attachment, an adaptation of a mask adjuster design developed by Peak Sport Products Co. and HP Inc., was created with feedback from doctors and nurses, according to HP.

Wearing ear-loop masks for prolonged periods of time, like during eight- or 12-hour shifts, may cause irritation, pain and itching on the back of the ears, says Jonathan Morris, M.D., director of the Anatomic Modeling Laboratory. The team gathered this input from technologists and nurses, some of whom were bringing in homemade solutions like headbands or surgical caps with buttons sewn on to the sides. Although these were helpful, they could not be mass-produced, and if the buttons were magnetic or metal, they could cause problems near MRI scanners.

a nurse or a medical researcher with a blue scrub cap and wearing a white ear loop mask attachment

"This is a scalable solution we can manufacture inexpensively," Dr. Morris adds. "The adjusters are able to be cleaned and reused, and as a bonus are MRI-compatible."

"This mask adjuster idea proves that little things can make a big difference. Radiology leaders listened to front-line staff, and we collaborated with a national network of experts to make these 3D-printed 'ear-savers' for the incredible Mayo Clinic staff," says Amy Alexander, lead biomedical engineer in the Anatomic Modeling Laboratory. "Beyond helping to alleviate daily ear strain, our hope is that staff know how valuable they are and feel supported by Radiology as a department."

After the design was adapted, staff 3D-printed adjusters and began handing them out to Department of Radiology staff to test. The entire team then stepped up to make the adjusters available to staff at Mayo Clinic sites in Arizona, Florida and Rochester, as well as the Mayo Clinic Health System. 

ear loop mask attachments being held in a person's hand

"Just one item takes a whole dedicated team to manufacture and distribute," Morris says.

"The 3D printing community has been very innovative and enthusiastic about finding ways to help our essential front-line workers," says Dr, John Skinner, Radiology ― Diagnostic, who also was involved in this project. "These ear protectors are an elegant 3D printing solution for ear pain resulting from long days wearing the necessary protective masks."

Dr. Morris says more than 2,000 ear-savers have been printed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. "Point-of-care manufacturing has become so important due to supply chain disruptions, and this is one more item we can make for our staff," he says.

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For the latest updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. For more information and COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

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