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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 dull, distant, and not right. It’s like you can’t hear the full sound you’re supposed to be getting. When you do some basic research, a battery issue appears to be the probable reason. Which annoys you because you keep the batteries charged every night.

And yet, here you are, struggling to hear your bunch of friends have a discussion around you. This is exactly the scenario you got hearing aids to prevent. Before you get too upset with your hearing aids, there’s one more cause for this weak sound you may want to check out: your own earwax.

A Home in Your Ears

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

Earwax Guards

Now, earwax does lots 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 numerous studies). So earwax isn’t a bad thing.

But hearing aids and earwax don’t always get along quite as well–the moisture in earwax, especially, can interfere with the standard operation of hearing aids. On the plus side, 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, referred to as wax guards, designed to stop earwax from interfering with the normal function of your device. And the “weak” sound could be caused by these wax guards.

Things to Know About Wax Guards

There is a small 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. In order for your hearing aid to keep working efficiently, a wax guard is crucial. But issues can be caused by the wax guard itself in certain situations:

  • Cleaning your earwax guard needs to be done once each month: it’s been too long since you last cleaned them. Much like any filter, a wax guard can ultimately become clogged with the very thing it’s been tasked with filtering out. Sound waves can be blocked if earwax is clogging up the wax guard and once in a while, you will need to clean it.
  • Your hearing aid shell is dirty: And let’s not forget your hearing aid shell, which also needs to be cleaned when you change your wax guard. If your hearing aid shell is plugged with earwax, it’s feasible some of that wax may find its way into the interior of the device while you’re changing the guard (and this would obviously impede the function of your hearing aids).
  • You have replaced your wax guard with the wrong model: Most hearing aid makers have their own specialized wax guard design. Sound that is “weak” can be the outcome if you buy the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • You need a professional check and clean: At least once every year you need to have your hearing aid professionally cleaned and checked to make sure it’s working 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: 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 change your wax guard (in order to make this smoother, you can purchase a toolkit made specifically for this).

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

After I Switch Out my Earwax Guard

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

As with any complex device, hearing aids do call for some routine maintenance, and there’s definitely a learning curve involved. 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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