Taking care of your hearing aids in the winter
Like it or not, winter is coming. And according to forecasters and climatologists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this year’s El Niño will be one of the strongest on record, bringing wetter winter for the southern tier of states, drier than average conditions for northern states, and (hopefully) drought alleviation for portions of California. (Evidently, it’s all about the position of the Pacific jet stream.)
Some will undoubtedly rejoice at the news, while others will begin making vacation plans to visit warmer climates. Yet no matter how you feel about the impending season, one thing is certain. If you wear hearing aids, winter means protecting them against cold temperatures and increased exposure to moisture.
In certain parts of the country, it gets cold. Fairbanks, Alaska averaged 17 degrees below zero between 1981 and 2010 and Worcester, Massachusetts averaged 16.8 degrees. According to the Weather Channel, February 2015 ranked as one of the coldest Februaries on record for many cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Can these cold temperatures affect your hearing aids?
For most of us, the answer is no, mainly because our work doesn’t take us outside where our hearing devices as exposed to the brutal temperatures. When we do venture out, it’s usually to go from the house to the car, then from the car to another heated building. And, even if we decide to join the kids outside for a snowman building session, it’s not the cold temperature that you have to worry about — it’s the condensation that occurs as the temperature changes when you come inside from the cold.
Is moisture a factor even if you bundle up and keep the snow out of your ears? Yes. It’s easy to work up a sweat outside in cold temperatures, especially if you’re shoveling the walk or participating in winter sports. And even if you’re just taking a wintery walk around the neighborhood, the change in temperature when you come inside can form condensation on your hearing aids.
FYI: The same goes for batteries that are stored in the refrigerator, too. According to Energizer, cold temperatures can harm batteries for the same reason they can harm your hearing aids — it can cause condensation which may corrode contacts and cause label or seal damage. Maximum performance and shelf life occur when you store batteries at normal room temperatures (68 degrees F – 78 degrees F) with moderate humidity levels.
Unless you’ve purchased a water-resistant hearing aid, moisture can be its worst enemy. Humidity, perspiration, condensation or accidental immersion in the sink or shower can ruin the microphone and receiver, clog the earmold tubing and sound and cause corrosion. Here are some signs your hearing aid may have been damaged by moisture:
- Your hearing aid cuts out during loud noises.
- Your hearing aid stops working, then suddenly begins working again.
- Sound seems to fade, or come and go.
- Sound is accompanied by static.
- Sounds are unclear or distorted.
If you encounter any of these problems with your hearing aids, turn them off and remove the batteries. Since many of these problems can be caused by batteries which need to be replaced, try inserting fresh ones. Remove any moisture where the batteries touch the hearing aids with a dry cotton swab. Check to make sure the earmold and sound outlet are not clogged with wax and the tubing is not frayed or cracked.
If your hearing aid still doesn’t work, try one of these suggestions from Audicus for drying them out at home:
- Purchase a hearing aid dry kit or dehumidifier and follow the directions.
- Put them on newspaper to air-dry for at least 24 hours.
- Put them near a table lamp — but not too close to a light bulb or other heat source.
- Seal your hearing aid in a plastic baggie containing one cup of uncooked rice or silica gel and let it set overnight. Silica gel and rice can work as dehumidifiers and soak up any water in your hearing aid.
- Use a fan or hairdryer on its lowest setting. Note: do not use high heat.
If your hearing aid still isn’t working after trying one or more of these suggestions, contact your hearing healthcare provider.
Protecting your investment
Like any piece of electronic equipment, hearing aids need a little TLC to keep them operating at their best. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends performing these tasks daily to keep them functioning properly:
- Perform listening checks with a listening tube (you can get one of these from your hearing healthcare professional). Make sure they sound clear, not wear or scratchy.
- Check batteries to make sure they are at full strength.
- Clean the hearing aids regularly with a soft, dry cloth.
- Avoid feedback by making sure the hearing aid is securely seated in your ear. Feedback may indicate the earmold is too small and needs to be replaced or that you have too much earwax in the ear canal.
While there is no fool-proof method of keeping your hearing aids completely dry, there are some precautions you can take to minimize moisture:
- Purchase a hearing aid drying kit or dehumidifier. Remove your hearing aid batteries and store your devices in the dehumidifier every night.
- Cover your head with an umbrella or hat when you know you’ll be out in inclement weather.
- Purchase hearing aid sweatbands or spandex covers to keep them moisture-free, especially if you have a tendency to sweat excessively or participate in outdoor activities.
Do your part to keep your hearing aids working properly and remember that regular audiology visits are important — both to keep tabs on how well you’re hearing as well as to check the performance of your hearing aid. When you work together with your hearing healthcare professional, you can more easily enjoy everything the season has to offer.
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