Oticon Alta

Take Care of Your Hearing Aids, So They Take Care of You

Personal question. What’d you pay for those hearing aids that have improved your life so much? A couple of grand? More? Today, you can easily spend $6,000 for a pair of top-of-the-line hearing aids, and that ain’t chump change. That’s some serious dough.

So, it goes without saying that the longer life you get out of those delicate hearing devices, the better your return on investment (ROI). If you spend $6,000 for a pair of quality hearing aids and they last you 7 years, they’re a bargain!

Well, now that you’re a member of the Ear Gear Gang, doesn’t it just make sense to learn all you can about taking care of those electronic gizmos that let you hear the grandkids’ laughter for the first time since the Clinton years?

You bet it does. And chances are, your audiologist or hearing aid professional gave you a long list of dos and don’ts but, well, sometimes you forget. We often take for granted the things that mean the most to us and, in your case Mr. or Ms. Hearing Aid Wearer, those hearing aids mean more than you can imagine. They keep you plugged in to the world around you.

So how about a few quick tips on taking care of those hearing aids, you know, the ones that let you hear the world? Yeah, the ones you wear all day and into the night.

1. Invest in a hearing aid dehumidifier

These gadgets dry out the digital circuitry inside your hearing aids while you sleep.

As you move through the day, hearing aids can gather moisture. Sweat from around the ear, ear wax, humidity in your environment or a squirt from the hose (“Got ya, Grandma!) Yeah ya got my hearing aids, too. But you enjoy the fun. And with a hearing aid dehumidifier you won’t worry about the moisture that collects within and on the hearing aids throughout the day.

Talk with your hearing professional about a hearing aid dehumidifier that does just what it says it does. Remove your hearing aids before hitting the sheets, place them in the dehumidifier (remove batteries first) and gently, overnight, the gadget dries out the inside bits of your hearing aids.

These dehumidifiers don’t cost a bundle and they can add years of useful life to those two expensive sound amplifiers you just bought. They will also reduce the need for repairs as moisture build up is a common reason hearing aids are sent to the manufacturer for repair.

oticon hearing aids
Different styles of hearing aids require different care and cleaning techniques (photo courtesy Oticon)

2. Clean away ear wax.

Let’s first get something straight, ear wax may be sticky, but it isn’t icky. It’s not a sign of poor hygiene. In fact, it’s 100% natural and beneficial. It traps the dust, pollen and other airborne debris channeled down the ear canal each day before it reaches the ear drum. The ear wax then naturally works its way down and out of the ear canal, taking all the debris with it.

However, ear wax and hearing aids don’t get along. In fact, ear wax can work its way into hearing aids (particularly custom in-the-ear hearing aids) and can gum up the works, clog the hearing aid speaker or microphone, and give less than peak performance.

Ear wax, along with moisture, is a common reason hearing aids are sent in for repair. With proper care and cleaning you can reduce the negative effects of ear wax on your hearing aids.

The first step when hearing aids are removed should be to wipe down the outside casing with a soft cloth to remove any wax, debris or oils. Often times wax is simply on the outer casing and can be wiped away.

Second is cleaning the receiver opening and/or tubing, which is the end that goes into your ear canal. If either gets plugged up with wax, you will have significant performance issues. You may experience reduced volume. If you wear a custom in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid, your hearing professional can properly instruct you on how to clean wax from the receiver (speaker) tubing. In fact hearing aids typically come with a special wire tool designed to carefully remove wax.

Additionally many hearing aid manufacturers utilize wax caps that snap into the end of ITE hearing aids. If earwax is a problem for you, this may be an ideal solution for you. These plastic caps pop off for easy cleaning and keep ear wax from reaching the hearing aid speaker resting at the edge of the wearer’s ear canal. Discuss this option with your hearing professional.

Care for hearing aids
Proper hearing aid care= life uninterrupted

If you wear a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid with either a custom earmold or an open-fit dome, they also can be cleaned. Discuss with your hearing professional the best cleaning technique based on your earmold type. Some can even be removed from the tubing and washed. Others simply require special tools to remove wax.

Finally, practice good ear hygiene, and no, that does NOT mean reaming out your ears with a cotton swab. That’s the worst thing you can do. If ear wax build-up is a problem (it’s worse for some than others) purchase an over-the-counter ear cleaning kit that contains a wax softener.

Follow the directions on the box and you’ll keep your ears clean enough. Short side note: if you overuse these ear cleaning products, you may end up with itchy ears. Remember, ear wax is natural, beneficial and it’s supposed to be there.

If you are unable to manage the ear wax on your own with a softening agent, visit an audiologist or physician for safe ear wax removal.

3. Clean the hearing aid’s microphone screens

If the hearing aid’s microphones are clogged with debris, they won’t pick up the sounds around you clearly. You want the clearest, cleanest signal (source) to be processed and amped up to best suit your hearing needs.

For cleaning microphones, first wipe away any obvious debris or ear wax from the microphone area. Although ear wax is not as likely to plug microphones, it can be a factor for wearers who use completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids. CIC hearing aids fit deeper within the ear canal and are more subjected to the side effects of ear wax.

After gently wiping down the hearing aid casing and microphone area, check to see if the screen covering your microphone appears to be clogged (it may take a magnifying glass to get a good look). If there appears to be debris within the microphone screen, make an appointment to see your hearing professional as they can either clean the microphone screen with safe cleaning tools and/or replace the screen in office.

The problems that may occur with debris filled microphone covers consist of decreased overall volume and decreased directional microphone effectiveness in background noise.

4. Replace BTE hearing aid tubing.

All BTE hearing aids connect to some sort of earmold by way of plastic tubing. Over time this soft flexible tubing can become hard or crack, which affects the acoustical effectiveness of the tubing. In other words the sound may sound muffled and you could possibly experience whistling.

If the tubing between the earmold and BTE hearing aid appears to have hardened or is discolored (yellowish) it is time to see your hearing professional for a quick tubing change. How often does this need to be done? Good question. It varies person by person as skin oils and other factors influence this. On average most people require tubing change once per year; however, some may require it more often.

5. Before you go to sleep let a little air in.

If you have not purchased a hearing aid dehumidifier yet, be sure you pop open the casing doors of your hearing aids. This natural air drying keeps circuits running smoothly, and provides the opportunity for the hearing aids to dry out overnight. And it saves on battery life.

6. Avoid extreme heat or cold.

Oh, sure, go for a brisk autumn walk. No problem. But, if you’re digging out from a good ol’ Nor’easter and the temp reads below zero degrees, you might want to remove your hearing aids before firing up the snow blower.

Same if it’s the eighth day in a row of 100 degree plus temperatures don’t leave your hearing aids sitting in the car or on the porch. Look don’t get the wrong idea. Today’s hearing aids are made to rugged, reliable standards so you don’t have to coddle the darned things.

You just have to be a little cautious to protect that investment you made in quality of life that are now resting comfortably within your ears.

Keep them clean, keep them dry, use a safe, recommended means of keeping the ear canals clear of waxy buildup and, finally, if you have any questions, ask your hearing aid professional.

You’ve got a large investment in your ears, right? Just think about some common sense tips and that pricey ear gear will give you years and years of happy sounds and good times.

You, your ears and your bank account will be glad you did.

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