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

Your hearing aids don’t sound right despite the fact that you just changed the batteries. Things just sound off, like they’re a little bit muffled and distant. It seems like some of the sound is lacking. When you troubleshoot the issue with a basic Google search, the most plausible answer seems to be a low battery. Which annoys you because you keep the batteries charged each night.

But here you are with some friends and you can’t really hear their discussion. You got hearing aids to avoid this exact circumstance. You may want to check out one more possibility before you get too angry about your hearing aids: earwax.

You’re Hearing Aids Reside in Your Ears

Your hearing aids reside in your ear, normally. Even when you wear an over-the-ear design, there’s at least contact with your ear canal. And for ideal performance, other versions have been created to be placed directly in the ear canal. Regardless of where your hearing aid is situated, it will be close to an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

Earwax Guards

Now, earwax does some important things for the health of your ears (numerous studies have shown that earwax ,in fact, has anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that can help stave off many infections). So earwax is not a bad thing.

But the interaction between hearing aids and earwax isn’t always so good–earwax moisture, in particular, can hinder the normal function of hearing aids. Luckily, this isn’t really a surprise to hearing aid manufacturers and earwax doesn’t often move in unpredictable ways.

So modern hearing aids have shields, referred to as wax guards, designed to stop earwax from interfering with the general performance of your device. And the “weak” sound might be caused by these wax guards.

Things to Know About Wax Guards

A wax guard is a tiny piece of technology that is integrated into your hearing aid. The concept is that the wax guard enables sound to go through, but not wax. So that your hearing aid can keep working properly, a wax guard is crucial. But there are some circumstances where the wax guard itself might cause some problems:

  • You have a dirty hearing aid shell: When you’re changing your earwax guard, it’s essential that your hearing aid shell be correctly cleaned also. 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 obviously impede the efficiency of your hearing aids).
  • When you bought your new wax guards, you got the wrong one: Every model and maker has a different wax guard. Sound that is “weak” can be the result if you get the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • Cleaning your earwax guard should be done once every month: it’s been too long since you’ve cleaned them. As with any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the exact 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.
  • You need a professional clean and check: In order to be certain that your hearing aid is working correctly, it needs to be cleaned once every year. And in order to make sure your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you should also get your hearing tested regularly.
  • You haven’t replaced your wax guard for some time: Wax guards wear out like any other filter. A wax guard can only be cleaned so much. You might have to get a new wax guard when cleaning doesn’t (you can get a special toolkit to make this process easier).

If you purchase a new hearing aid guard, it will likely come with instructions, so it’s a good idea 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 providing clearer sounds. You’ll be able to hear (and follow along with) conversations again. And that can be a real relief if you’ve been disappointed with your (fully charged) hearing aid.

Like with any specialized device, hearing aids do call for some regular maintenance, and there’s certainly a learning curve involved. So just keep in mind: if your hearing aid is sounding weak and your batteries have a full charge, it might be time to change your earwax guard.

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