How much maintenance is there with hearing aids?

Even at discount prices, hearing aids are an investment you would want to protect for their performance and their value. Some patients are concerned they will be saddled with endless cleanings and care, so what is the real picture when it comes to maintaining a set of hearing aids?

The first and most obvious issue would be to protect them from getting wet. Most hearing aids come with a moisture-resistant coating that helps them against sweat and surface water. This “nano-coating” is applied at the factory to the electrical components and other parts in the aid. Hearing aids are fairly resilient when it comes to surface moisture. About once a month I jump in the shower with mine on and they are “no worse for the wear.” As soon as I realize I forgot to take them off, I open them on a shelf and let them air dry. Don’t ever use a hair dryer on them and never, ever put them in the microwave.

Surface moisture, even rain, will and can be allowed to air dry off the hearing aids, but letting them drop into water and having them completely submerged is a real challenge to the survival of these electronic devices. I had a male patient recently send his aids on a trip through his washing machine. They still work, but I would not recommend it. Sometimes hearing aids are dropped into the dish sink or other obvious household places where they could make a splash. Retrieve them quickly and again, let them air dry. The longer they are under water, the less likely they will continue to work.

Many hearing aids are sold with a “lost, stolen, and damaged” coverage that replaces the hearing aid with a small deductible. Most coverage is for the first three years after the purchase.

It is important to wipe the hearings aid clean from sweat and other surface residue just about every day. Any soft cloth will do, but don’t use an alcohol swab like a moist towelette. Hearing aids come with tiny brushes that the owner’s manual picture to use in keeping the microphone ports free from lint. I teach my patients to simply blow gently on these microphones and that will be more than enough to keep the lint away.

Earwax is the biggest culprit when it comes to maintaining hearing aids.

Kidshealth.org has a very simple overview of wax: “Earwax is made in the outer ear canal. This is the area between the fleshy part of the ear on the outside of your head (the part you can see) and the middle ear. The skin in the outer ear canal has special glands that produce earwax. The fancy name for this waxy stuff is cerumen (say: suh-ROO-mun). After the wax is produced, it slowly makes its way through the outer ear canal to the opening of the ear. Then it either falls out or is removed when you wash. In most people, the outer ear canal makes earwax all the time, so the canal always has enough wax in it.

“So why do we need wax?

“Earwax has several important jobs.

“First, it protects and moisturizes the skin of the ear canal, preventing dry, itchy ears. Second, it contains special chemicals that fight off infections that could hurt the skin inside the ear canal. Finally, it acts as a shield between the outside world and the eardrum. When dust, dirt, and other things enter your ear, the earwax traps them so they can’t travel any further.”

Did you notice that? Many people think wax is related to dirt from the outside, but it is actually secreted inside the ear and acts as a cleaning agent .

As all things slow down when we get older, it is not uncommon to meet patients with “impacted” or plugged ears because of their wax. It can be removed slowly with over-the-counter drops or quickly with a simple procedure at your family doctor. Ongoing wax vigilance is a necessary part of owning and wearing hearing aids. If wax plugs the speaker ports, the place where the sound comes out, it won’t come out and the hearing aid will appear to be broken. Most hearing aids have some form of miniature wax guards or plugs to keep that from happening. If wax actually gets down inside the hearing aid, it can be removed by your hearing professional with a tiny vacuum. Mine works through a tip the size of a needle.

The care and maintenance of hearing aids is a daily habit. Most people simply check everything at night when they take them off, so it is not an endless chore. After these things, moisture and wax, it is just common sense about keeping the hearing aids out of the reach from pets and small children. Pets are the No. 1 reason hearing aids are damaged. Changing batteries is also part of using hearing aids, but not actually a maintenance issue.

If you have the symptoms of hearing loss, let a professional help you find out why. The hearing professional will help you sort out the models, technology level to meet your need and your budget, and answer your hearing need questions. If you have other specific maintenance questions, ask a hearing professional. Merry Christmas!

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Jeffrey L. Bayliff, NBC-HIS, is owner of Hear the Birds Hearing Aid Center, Lock Haven.

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