Wondering how ear wax impacts hearing aids?
The magic of hearing is something that can be taken for granted until issues arise with this precious sense. One in six Australians is hearing impaired, suffers from deafness or has an ear disorder. If you are having trouble hearing in large groups or noisy situations, or you feel people are always mumbling, you may be one of these people! Hearing aids are one way to restore hearing to a level that can allow most people to again enjoy family gatherings, wonderful catch ups with friends, and memorable musical concerts. But those who wear hearing aids should understand that ear wax build-ups can be a common side effect of wearing hearing aids which may require regular manual removal.
Why do hearing aids cause this build-up? What effects does this build-up have on the effectiveness of hearing aids? Let’s find out.
Interfering With The Natural Cleaning Process
For most people, the ears are self-cleaning. They clean themselves through a migratory process in which the movement of the superficial skin layer moves ear wax from the outer third of the ear canal to the entrance of the ear where it naturally falls out. So without any need to ‘clean the ear’, wax normally makes its way out of the ears without any assistance.
Hearing aids can disrupt this process. Hearing aid domes placed in the ears day after day can push wax down the canal, instead of the wax moving out naturally. This disruption can also be impacted by cotton bud use, and can lead to wax building up within the canal itself and eventually becoming impacted. At this point, manual removal is often required.
Hearing aids typically sit in the ear for all waking hours. That means, there is a block in the natural migratory process for ear wax, which is why build-ups are so common. When you get your hearing aids fitted, ear wax removal is often recommended and it’s essential you heed this advice.
Effects Of Ear Wax On Hearing Aids
The acidity of ear wax coupled with the moisture of perspiration can damage the electronics of the hearing aids. In fact, it is one of the leading causes of premature failure and the return of hearing aids to the manufacturer for repairs*. Hearing aids are delicate and expensive pieces of equipment so repairs and replacements can be costly. Ensuring your ‘wax guards’ are changed when needed and having wax removed regularly through gentle microsuction can assist in preventing these problems.
A build-up of earwax can also impact on hearing aid performance. If you imagine the hearing aid speaker delivering sound down the ear canal, only to hit a large wall of wax, you can see where problems arise. The sound cannot reach the eardrum and will instead be delivered back to the hearing aid microphone, leading to a whistling and squealing noise. This hearing aid ‘feedback’ is easy to fix – remove the wax blockage. Once wax build up reaches approximately 80% occlusion within the canal, hearing starts to diminish*.
To counteract the above problems, your hearing aids will be fitted with a wax guard, but you need to monitor this guard. Always follow the instructions given by your hearing aid supplier about how to both clean and dry your aids and change your wax guards.
The Importance of Looking After Your Hearing Aids
To care for your hearing aids, you should change your wax trap at least once every three months or whenever the hearing aid isn’t working*.
You should also regularly clean your hearing aid moulds. If directed by your hearing aid provider, once the earmold is detached, soak it in a mild soapy solution; do not use isopropyl alcohol, solvents, or oils to clean earmolds* unless part of your specific hearing care plan. You could also try cleaning the mould with the brush supplied from your cleaning kit – try doing this in the morning as the wax may be drier and easier to remove.
Again, ensuring you follow the advice of your hearing aid supplier is key and they will be happy to help you learn how to care for your hearing devices.
Removing Ear Wax From Your Ears
In addition to keeping you hearing aids free of wax, you also need to keep your ears free of wax. The guidelines* we follow recommend a wax check by your health professional every 3-6 months in order to monitor the wax. If wax build up is identified and wax removal recommended, visit your local Earworx clinic where wax will be removed using the Earworx’s micro-suction process.
This procedure is carried out by a highly trained registered nurses. The nurse uses small instruments like forceps and curettes as well as micro-suction to dislodge and gently-remove wax blockages. The nurse monitors the entire process with the use of ‘loupes’, which are binocular magnified glasses fitted with a bright light.
The process runs as follows:
- The nurse will ask you a series of questions to learn more about your ear health history.
- The nurse will use a speculum to check the wax build up. If there is a significant impaction, the entire procedure will be explained to you in detail, and you will be given a chance to ask questions.
- Curettes, microforceps and microsuction will be used to dislodge and gently remove the wax blockage, providing often instant relief from wax related symptoms.
In Conclusion: How Ear Wax Impacts Hearing Aids
As you can see, ear wax and hearing aid performance are intertwined – sometimes in a negative way, unfortunately. If you are prone to wax build up behind your hearing aids you just need to be vigilant. Make sure you’re cleaning your aids and changing your guards regularly and visit a professional every now and then to check on your wax level. If you feel as though your hearing has declined, it’s could be because your wax has built up to a problematic level and it is worth checking this to keep your ears healthy and prevent damage or infection.
The lovely team at Earworx are always happy to check on your ears and advise on your need for an ear clean. We can even provide advice on how often you should return based on your history and ear wax production levels.
*Schwartz et al 2017, Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Earwax (Cerumen Impaction), Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Vol 156 (IS) SI-S29
Lisa Hellwege BN, RN, MACN is Director of Earworx and volunteer state coordinator for the nurses interest group, OHNNG (Otorhinolaryngology head and neck nurses group).
Clare Combey BSc, MAud, MAudA(CCP), AssocDeg DemCare is a Senior Audiologist with Hearing Australia and is the Chair of the Tasmanian Chapter of Audiology Australia