Hearing aid breakdown due to ear wax can be frustrating for hearing aid users. Fortunately, there are some simple, at-home techniques that can help keep hearing aids free of ear wax and in proper working condition. Ear wax is one of the leading causes of hearing aid repair, along with moisture and battery malfunction. Wax can build up in the tubing, the sound bore, and the microphone ports, blocking sound from entering or exiting the hearing aid. This can result in a hearing aid that sounds weak, distorted or, depending on the size of the blockage, lead to no sound coming out of the hearing aid at all.
Troubleshooting a hearing aid for ear wax build up should start with a visual inspection. Often, it is easy to see if ear wax is filling up parts of a hearing aid. Depending on where this build up occurs, the removal of ear wax and cleaning of the hearing aid can be done with the use of some basic tools. These tools can be obtained at your local hearing aid center.
Most hearing aids today come with built-in wax protecting mechanisms, such as filters or wax guards. The goal of these features is to prevent wax from entering the hearing aid and causing damage to its internal components. These filters and wax guards are designed to be easily removed and replaced by the hearing aid user. A supply of replacement filters or wax guards and the proper tool for removal are typically provided with the initial hearing aid fitting and can be replenished as needed. There is no set timeline for how often filters or guards should be replaced, because each person produces ear wax differently. In general, when the filters or wax guards start to look dirty or have obvious wax accumulation, it is time to change them.
Sound bores and hearing aid tips (also called “domes”) can also become clogged with wax. This hinders sound from exiting the hearing aid. Hearing aid tips, like wax guards and filters, can be removed and replaced. This should be done if ear wax is visibly obstructing the tip. If the sound bore (where the sound comes out) of an ear mold or custom-fit hearing aid is blocked with wax, a small wax loop and brush can be used to remove the debris. It is important that the loop is not jabbed directly down into the sound bore, but rather used with a scooping motion like a tiny shovel. Wax loops often come with a small brush located on the opposite end. This brush can be gently swept across the surface of a hearing aid and its filters to get rid of any dry or loose ear wax or debris that might be present.
For Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids, it is possible for ear wax to work its way into the tubing that connects the hearing aid to the ear mold. In this event, the ear mold and tubing can be removed from the hearing aid. Then, small, flexible wire inserted through the tube. This can help push out any occluding wax. Air blowers can also be helpful in this situation if the wax is not tightly stuck within the tube, or if it is light and flaky. By placing the tip of the air blower at the opening of the tube and puffing air through, any lodged ear wax, debris or moisture can be forced out. If, when using the blower,it is possible to feel air escape through the sound bore, sound itself can also easily pass through the tubing and into the ear.
By using these few simple techniques and tools, a hearing aid user can effectively keep their hearing aids clean from ear wax and limit hearing aid repairs and clinic visits for wax-related problems.