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

You just exchanged the batteries, but your hearing aids just don’t sound the way they should. Things just don’t sound right, like they’re a little dull and distant. It’s like you aren’t hearing the full sound you’re supposed to be getting. When you troubleshoot the issue with a simple Google search, the most likely solution seems to be a low battery. Which frustrates you because you charge the batteries every night.

And yet, here you are, struggling to hear your group of friends have a conversation near you. You got hearing aids to avoid this exact circumstance. You may want to check one more possibility before you get too angry about your hearing aids: earwax.

A Home in Your Ears

Your hearing aids reside in your ear, normally. Even when you use an over-the-ear model, there’s at least contact with your ear canal. And for optimal efficiency, other designs have been designed to be positioned directly in the ear canal. Wherever your hearing aid is positioned, it will encounter an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

A Guard Against Earwax

Now, earwax does a lot of great things for the health of your ears ((many infection can actually be avoided because of the antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities of earwax, according to various studies). So earwax isn’t a bad thing.

But the relationship between earwax and hearing aids isn’t always helpful–earwax moisture, in particular, can interfere with the standard operation of hearing aids. Fortunately, that earwax is predictable and manufacturers are well mindful of it.

So modern hearing aids have safeguards, known as wax guards, designed to stop earwax from impacting the normal performance of your device. And those wax guards may be what’s causing the “weak” sound.

Things to Know About Wax Guards

There is a little piece of technology in your hearing aid called a wax guard. The idea is that the wax guard lets sound to pass through, but not wax. Wax guards are important for your hearing aid to continue working correctly. But troubles can be caused by the wax guard itself in certain cases:

  • When you got your new wax guards, you got the wrong model: Each model and maker has a different wax guard. Sound that is “weak” can be the outcome if you buy the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • You haven’t changed your wax guard for some time: Like any other filter, eventually, the wax guard will no longer be able to properly perform its task. A wax guard can only be cleaned so many times. When cleaning no longer does the trick, you may have to replace your wax guard (you can purchase a specialized toolkit to make this process smoother).
  • A professional check and clean is needed: At least once per year you need to have your hearing aid professionally cleaned and checked to make sure it’s functioning correctly. And in order to make sure your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you should also get your hearing tested on a regular basis.
  • Cleaning your earwax guard needs to be done once a month: it’s been too long since you’ve cleaned them. As with any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the very thing it’s been tasked with filtering out. Every now and then, you’ll need to clean the guard or the wax caught up in it will begin to block sound waves and damage your hearing.
  • You have a dirty hearing aid shell: And let’s remember your hearing aid shell, which also has to be cleaned when you switch out your wax guard. If your hearing aid shell is plugged with earwax, it’s feasible, while you’re changing the wax guard, some of the earwax gets into the interior of the hearing aid (and this would clearly hamper the efficiency of your hearing aids).

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

After I Change 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 along with) conversations again. And that’s a real relief if you’ve been aggravated with your (fully charged) hearing aid.

There’s certainly a learning curve in regards to maintaining any complex device like hearing aids. So just remember: It’s likely time to replace your wax guard if the sound quality of your hearing aid is poor even when the battery is fully charged.

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