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

Your hearing aids aren’t sounding right despite the fact that you just changed the batteries. Everything sounds distant, muffled, and just a little off. It’s like some of the sound is lacking. When you do some basic research, a battery issue appears to be the most likely cause. And that’s frustrating because you’re very careful about putting your hearing aid on the charging station before you go to sleep each night.

But here you are with a group of friends and you can’t really hear their conversation. This is exactly the situation you bought hearing aids to prevent. You may want to check out one more possibility before you become too annoyed about your hearing aids: earwax.

A Home in Your Ears

Your hearing aids live in your ear, in most cases. Your ear canal is at least contacted even by an over the ear model. And for best efficiency, other designs have been created to be placed directly in the ear canal. Regardless of where your hearing aid is positioned, it will be close to an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

Earwax Guards

Now, earwax does a lot of important things for the health of your ears ((various infection can actually be avoided because of the antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities of earwax, according to many studies). So earwax is not a negative thing.

But the relationship between hearing aids and earwax isn’t always so good–the moisture in earwax, particularly, can impact the normal function of hearing aids. The good thing is, that earwax is predictable and manufacturers are well aware of it.

So modern hearing aids have safeguards, known as wax guards, designed to keep earwax from interfering with the general performance of your device. And those wax guards may be what’s creating the “weak” sound.

Wax Guard Etiquette

There is a tiny piece of technology in your hearing aid called a wax guard. Wax can’t go through but sound can. In order for your hearing aid to keep working effectively, a wax guard is crucial. But problems can be caused by the wax guard itself in certain situations:

  • It’s been too long since the wax guard was cleaned: Cleaning your wax guard should be a monthly (or so) maintenance task. As with any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the exact thing it’s been tasked with filtering out. Every every so often, 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’ve replaced your wax guard with the incorrect model: Most hearing aid providers have their own unique wax guard design. Sound that is “weak” can be the result if you get the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • Your hearing aid shell is dirty: When you’re changing your earwax guard, it’s important that your hearing aid shell be correctly cleaned as well. If earwax is clogging your hearing aid, it’s feasible, while you’re swapping out 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).
  • A professional check and clean is needed: At least once per year you should have your hearing aid professionally cleaned and checked to make certain it’s functioning properly. You should also think about getting your hearing evaluated regularly to be certain your hearing hasn’t changed at all.
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been changed: Wax guards wear out like any other filter. There’s only so much cleaning you can do to a wax guard! When cleaning no longer does the trick, you might have to change your wax guard (in order to make this smoother, you can get a toolkit made specifically for this).

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

After I Switch Out my Earwax Guard

Once you’ve changed your earwax guard, your hearing aids should start producing clearer sounds. Hearing and following discussions should become much easier. And that can be a big relief if you’ve been disappointed with your (fully charged) hearing aid.

There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to maintaining any specialized device such as hearing aids. So just remember: if your hearing aid sounds weak and your batteries have a full charge, it may be time to replace your earwax guard.