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

You just changed the batteries, but your hearing aids still don’t sound right. Everything sounds distant, dull, and just a little off. It’s like you aren’t hearing the full sound you’re supposed to be experiencing. When you do some basic research, a low battery seems to be the probable cause. And that’s irritating because you’re really diligent about setting your hearing aid on the charging platform before you go to sleep every night.

But here you are with some friends and you can’t quite hear their discussion. You bought hearing aids to avoid this exact circumstance. Before you get too mad with your hearing aids, there’s one more cause for this weak sound you may want to check: your own earwax.

You’re Hearing Aids Live in Your Ears

Your ears are where your hearing aids live under typical circumstances. Your ear canal is at least contacted even by an over the ear model. Other versions are designed to be placed in the ear canal for optimal results. Wherever your hearing aid is positioned, it will encounter an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

A Shield Against Earwax

Now, earwax does lots of important things for the health of your ears (numerous studies have revealed that earwax ,in fact, has anti-fungal and antibacterial qualities that can help prevent numerous infections). So earwax can actually be a good thing.

But hearing aids and earwax don’t always work together quite as well–the normal operation of your hearing aid can be hindered by earwax, particularly the moisture. Fortunately, this isn’t exactly a surprise to hearing aid makers and earwax doesn’t usually move in unpredictable ways.

So modern hearing aids have shields, known as wax guards, designed to keep earwax from interfering with the normal performance of your device. And the “weak” sound could be brought about by these wax guards.

Wax Guard Etiquette

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

  • Your hearing aid shell is dirty: And let’s remember your hearing aid shell, which also needs to be cleaned when you switch out your wax guard. If your hearing aid shell is plugged with earwax, it’s possible some of that wax could find its way into the inside of the device while you’re swapping the guard (and, obviously, this would hinder the function of the hearing aid).
  • 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 outcome if you buy the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • It’s time for a professional clean and check: At least once a year you need to get your hearing aid professionally checked and cleaned to be sure it’s functioning correctly. And in order to be certain that your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you also need to have your hearing tested regularly.
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been changed: Wax guards wear out like any other filter. 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 (in order to make this smoother, you can purchase a toolkit made specially for this).
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard was cleaned: Cleaning your wax guard should be a monthly (or so) maintenance routine. As with any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the very thing it’s been tasked with filtering out. Sound waves can be blocked if earwax is plugging up the wax guard and every once in a while, you will need to clean it.

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

After I Change my Earwax Guard

You should notice much improved sound quality once you switch your wax guard. You’ll be able to hear (and follow along with) conversations again. And that can be a real relief if you’ve been frustrated with your (fully charged) hearing aid.

There’s undoubtedly a learning curve with regards to maintaining any specialized device such as hearing aids. So just keep in mind: It’s probably time to change your wax guard if the sound quality of your hearing aid is weak even with a fully charged battery.

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