Did you know that one in seven Australians suffer from some form of hearing loss¹? This equates to around 14.5% of the population and increases as we get older. Over half the population aged between 60 and 70 suffer from hearing loss, and this increases to more than 70 per cent of those over the age of 70, and 80 per cent of those over the age of 80².
Fortunately, many can benefit from the use of a hearing aid in order to rediscover the joy of sound and communicate effectively with friends and loved ones. But what do you do when earwax build up is an issue for you? How do you look after your hearing aids and prevent earwax from reducing your hearing aid performance?
The Impact of Hearing Aids on Earwax
For the majority of the population, the ears ‘self-clean’. This occurs through a ‘conveyor-belt’ motion of the skin layer inside our ears. Through this motion our earwax is moved to the outer part of our ear canals and once there is loosened via jaw movement through chewing and talking. The earwax then either falls out of the ear or is able to be wiped away. This is why we do not need to ‘clean our ears’.
Wearing hearing aids however can hinder this ‘self-cleaning’ process. The part of the hearing aid that is inserted into the ear can push wax back down the ear canal or can prevent the wax from falling out. It also sits where the wax glands lay in the outer ear, stimulating the production of even more wax. This can then lead to earwax build up, which can impair hearing aid performance.
If you wear hearing aids therefore, the guidelines³ recommend a wax check every 3-6 months. This can be provided by your local Earworx clinic, your audiologist, or your GP.
The Impact of Earwax on Hearing Aids
The acidity and moisture of your earwax can damage the electronics of your hearing aids; hearing aid manufacturers indicate that 60% to 70% of all hearing aids sent for repair are damaged as a result of contact with earwax4. This can end up being very costly and is entirely preventable.
Hearing aid use can impact on the ear itself. The combination of earwax impaction and hearing aid use has been shown in some instances to cause a change the bacteria in the external ear to include pathogens that can increase the risk of otitis externa (or external ear infection)³.
Wax build-up can also hinder the performance of your hearing aids. Excess wax in the ear canal can prevent your hearing aid from fitting properly in your ear canal and sealing. Sound produced by your hearing aid can then bounce back off this impacted wax, where it is then picked up by the microphone and reamplified. This can create ‘feedback loop’ and lead to a whistling sound, which can be very distracting and can also be heard by others. By simply removing the wax to ensure the hearing aid fits correctly, you can prevent this feedback from occurring.
If you suffer from wax build up, whether this is a result of wearing hearing aids or not, you should have your earwax removed manually by a professional. Earworx clinics across Australia are dedicated earwax removal services run by specially trained registered nurses; their core business is to remove and help you manage earwax build up.
How to Look After Your Hearing Aids
To avoid damage to your hearing aids by excess earwax, you should ensure that you are changing your ‘wax guards’ or ‘wax traps’ as recommended, and that you clean your hearing aid inserts/moulds regularly as per the manufacturer’s guidelines. Generally, this can be performed by detaching them and soaking them in a mild soapy solution, or by brushing them with a small brush provided by the hearing aid manufacturer once the aids are left overnight and the wax dries. Please consult your hearing professional for advice if you are using anything else to clean your hearing aids to ensure it is suitable.
Getting Your Ears Professionally Cleaned
When attending your local Earworx clinic, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire. Your qualified Earworx registered nurse will then ask you a series of questions and examine your ears to determine whether or not wax removal is clinically indicated.
The curettage and micro-suction procedure at Earworx is monitored with ‘loupes’; binocular glasses that are fitted with a bright light. This ensures your safety as your registered nurse is able to make sure that no direct contact is made between the suction and your ear canal or eardrum during wax removal. The entire procedure is done under ‘direct observation’, enhancing safety.
If you wear hearing aids and are prone to wax build up, you may require regular appointments to ensure your ears stay free of excess wax. At Earworx, we find a twice-yearly appointment is often needed, but this can vary between clients. Once you have attended both your first and second appointment with Earworx, your Registered Nurse will be better able to determine and advise you around how often you may need to attend based on how quickly your wax is building up.
- Schwartz et al 2017, Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Earwax (Cerumen Impaction), Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Vol 156 (IS) SI-S29
- Kochkin S. MarkeTrak VII: customer satisfaction with hearing instruments in the digital age. Hearing J. 2005;58:30-43.