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Related Help Pages: Hearing Loss Prevention

Aural Hygiene

From the time we were children, we learned the importance of good oral (mouth) hygiene. Good oral hygiene reduces the risk of gum disease, tooth decay and it reduces bad breath. Good oral hygiene helps you maintain a nice smile and keeps your teeth white, well into your senior years.

However, I'll bet many of you have never heard of good ''aural hygiene,'' or hygiene of the ear. Aural hygiene becomes even more important when one starts wearing hearing aids, earmolds, or using custom made ear inserts such as music delivery systems and generic or custom made ear plugs (to reduce your noise exposure).

Consider this; most hearing aids and all earmolds are worn inside a body cavity, that is, an opening within the body. The ear canal is a warm, moist, dark place where germs love to grow, and they do - even in healthy ears! The ear has quite a sophisticated system for keeping itself clean when it is healthy, but the devices you insert into your ear (hearing aids, earmolds, noise plugs, etc. ) can interfere with the ear's ability to keep itself clean.

You must clean the devices inserted into the ear, or you risk introducing dangerous germs into your ear.

Microorganisms from the ear canal quickly settle on devices placed in the ear. These organisms can grow out of control very quickly on the device, and they are reintroduced to the ear every time the device is reinserted! This may lead to an itchy ear, an odorous (smelly) ear or worse -- an infected ear requiring medical treatment. That's why it is so important to clean and disinfect hearing aids, earmolds and other devices placed in the ear.

What kind of microorganisms are we talking about? Primarily bacteria and fungus but also viruses. A bacterium is a single celled organism that multiplies by simple division. A fungus is a microscopic plant that is capable of growing on dead organic matter or living tissue. A virus is a submicroscopic potentially infectious particle made up of protein and nucleic acids. All microorganisms are capable of causing disease if given the opportunity. Although our immune system plays a critical role in limiting opportunistic infections, we can help by reducing our exposure to germs.

There are a few things to remember about keeping hearing aids (and other devices for the ear) germ free:

First, never submerge a hearing aid in any liquid as it will certainly damage the hearing aid! Rather, use a wipe, so the amount of moisture applied to the unit is controlled. One wipe designed specifically for this purpose is called AudioWipes' (www.hearingassistant.com). You should avoid using alcohol on all devices inserted into the ear, unless specifically directed to do so by the manufacturer. Alcohol can ruin plastic shells and other delicate components too.

You should always clean the hearing aid (or earmold, earplug, etc.) to remove visible ''gunk'' and then, wipe it with a disinfectant and let it air dry to kill the germs.

At night, store your hearing instrument in a drying kit (also called a dry aid kit) designed specifically to pull moisture out of the hearing aid. Moisture allows germs to grow and can reduce the life of the sophisticated electronics in the hearing aid.

NOTE: Clean the hearing aid off before putting it in the dry aid kit, to keep the dry aid kit clean. Keeping the dry aid kit clean is important because you don't want to place a clean hearing aid in a potentially contaminated or infected dry aid kit.

In my experience, the best hearing aid dryer is the Dry and Store (www.dryandstore.com, www.hearingassistant.com). The Dry and Store is a computerized system that utilizes moving, desiccated, heated air to dry the hearing aid inside and out. It uses an effective and efficient ultraviolet lamp to kill germs. The manufacturer reports that those who use the Dry and Store, have more comfortable, longer lasting hearing aids, and they also report batteries last longer.

Be careful about handling hearing aids! When you handle hearing aids, germs from your hands can be transferred to the hearing aid, and germs from the hearing aid can be transferred to your hands. A recent study showed that 100% of all hearing aids were contaminated with moderate to heavy amounts of bacteria and fungus. It is very important to wash your hands carefully before and after handing hearing aids, earmolds and other devices inserted into the ears.

Earwax (the medical term is ''cerumen'') is an important substance for keeping ears clean. This thick sticky substance migrates from inside the ear to outside dragging dirt and germs with it as it goes. Too much earwax can become a problem if it is pushed into the ear and blocks the transmission of sound. This can occur if you use cotton swabs as they potentially push the earwax deeper into the ear. The old adage, ''never stick anything smaller than your elbow in your ear'' really holds true. Over the counter wax softening drops, such as Audiologist's Choice or Debrox, can be used to help remove excess ear wax.

Earwax can also be a real problem when it comes to hearing aids as wax often finds its way into the aid - and keeps it from working by blocking the microphone, and/or the receiver. Although there is no absolutely, 100 percent, guaranteed way to keep earwax out of hearing aids and the tiny components, one very good and inexpensive idea is to use a wax guard.

Wax guards come in a variety of forms; there are wax springs, wax troughs, and a unique product called Adhear (www.hearingcomponents.com, www.hearingassistant.com) that can help keep the hearing aid wax free. Adhear are little ''band aid-like'' shields that go over the sound port of the hearing aid and can be disposed of when they get dirty. Your hearing healthcare professional can tell you which one is right for you and your hearing aids!

Perspiration, hairspray, hair gel, other cosmetics and of course dust, can also play havoc with all hearing instruments. It's usually a good idea to apply your make up and cosmetics BEFORE placing the hearing aids in your ears, and then AFTER that's finished, place the hearing aids in the ears.

For Behind-The-Ear (BTE) hearing aids, there are products such as Super Seals www.justbekuz.com that slide over the BTE hearing aids, to keep moisture such as perspiration and rain and snow off of, and out of the hearing aid. A new product called the Hearing Aid Sweat Band is a sort of ''tube sock'' for BTE hearing aids, and it keeps it dry and free from dirt.

For more information about keeping your hearing aids clean and dry, please speak with your hearing healthcare professional.

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