Woman holding ear because her hearing aid isn't working.

Your hearing aids don’t sound right even though you recently changed the batteries. Everything seems dull, distant, and just a little off. It’s like you aren’t hearing the full sound you’re supposed to be receiving. When you try to diagnose the issue with a simple Google search, the most probable answer seems to be a low battery. And that’s frustrating because you’re quite diligent about putting your hearing aid on the charging station before you go to bed each night.

And yet, here you are, struggling to listen as your group of friends have a discussion around you. You bought hearing aids to avoid this exact situation. You may want to check one more possibility before you become too angry about your hearing aids: earwax.

A Home in Your Ears

Your hearing aids live in your ear, usually. Your ear canal is at least contacted even by an over the ear design. And for optimal efficiency, other versions have been designed to be placed directly in the ear canal. Earwax will be an ever-present neighbor no matter where your hearing aid is positioned.

A Shield Against Earwax

Now, earwax does lots of great things for the health of your ears ((many infection can actually be prevented because of the antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities of earwax, according to various studies). So earwax can actually be a positive thing.

But the relationship between hearing aids and earwax is not always so good–earwax moisture, in particular, can hinder the standard function of hearing aids. Fortunately, this isn’t really a surprise to hearing aid manufacturers and earwax doesn’t often move in unpredictable ways.

So modern hearing aids have shields, known as wax guards, created to stop earwax from interfering with the normal performance of your device. And those wax guards might be what’s creating the “weak” sound.

Wax Guard Etiquette

A wax guard is a tiny piece of technology that is incorporated into your hearing aid. The idea is that the wax guard allows sound to go through, but not wax. In order for your hearing aid to keep working efficiently, a wax guard is crucial. But troubles can be caused by the wax guard itself in certain circumstances:

  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been cleaned: Cleaning your wax guard needs to be a monthly (or so) maintenance task. Much like any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the exact thing it’s been tasked with eliminating. Sound waves can be blocked if earwax is plugging up the wax guard and every once in a while, you will have to clean it.
  • When you bought your new wax guards, you got the wrong model: Every model and maker has a different wax guard. Sound that is “weak” can be the result if you purchase the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • It’s time for a professional clean and check: In order to be certain that your hearing aid is functioning properly, it needs to be cleaned once per year. And in order to be certain that your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you should also have your hearing tested on a regular basis.
  • Your hearing aid shell is dirty: When you’re switching your earwax guard, it’s essential that your hearing aid shell be properly cleaned as well. If your hearing aid shell is covered with earwax, it’s possible, while you’re changing the wax guard, some of the earwax gets into the inside of the hearing aid (and this would clearly impede the function of your hearing aids).
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been replaced: Like any other filter, sooner or later the wax guard will no longer be able to effectively perform its job. A wax guard can only be cleaned so many times. When cleaning no longer does the trick, you might have to change your wax guard (so that you can make this easier, you can buy a toolkit made specifically for this).

If you get a new hearing aid guard, it will likely come with instructions, so it’s a good idea to follow those instructions to the best of your ability.

After I Switch Out my Earwax Guard

Once you’ve changed your earwax guard, your hearing aids should begin producing clearer sounds. You’ll be able to hear (and follow) conversations again. And that can be a huge relief if you’ve been aggravated with your (fully charged) hearing aid.

Similar to any complex device, hearing aids do call for some regular maintenance, and there’s definitely a learning curve involved. So just keep in mind: It’s probably time to replace your wax guard if the sound quality of your hearing aid is weak even with a fully charged battery.

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