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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 seems distant, muffled, and just a little off. It seems like some of the sound isn’t there. When you do some basic research, a low battery appears to be the probable cause. And that’s irritating because you’re quite careful about placing your hearing aid on the charging station before you go to bed each night.

Nevertheless, here you are, fighting to hear your group of friends have a discussion near you. You got hearing aids to avoid this exact situation. You might want to check one more possibility before you become too annoyed about your hearing aids: earwax.

A Residence 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. Other versions are designed to be positioned inside the ear canal for best performance. Regardless of where your hearing aid is situated, it will be close to an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

Earwax Guards

Now, earwax does a lot of great things for the health of your ears (many studies have shown that earwax ,in fact, has anti-fungal and antibacterial qualities that can help stave off many infections). So earwax isn’t a bad thing.

But hearing aids and earwax don’t always get along quite as well–the moisture in earwax, particularly, can impact the normal function of hearing aids. The good news is, this isn’t really a surprise to hearing aid makers and earwax doesn’t usually move in unpredictable ways.

So modern hearing aids have safeguards, known as wax guards, created to keep earwax from impacting the general function of your device. And those wax guards might be what’s causing the “weak” sound.

Wax Guard Etiquette

There is a tiny piece of technology in your hearing aid known as a wax guard. Wax can’t go through but sound can. In order for your hearing aid to keep working efficiently, a wax guard is essential. But there are some circumstances where the wax guard itself might cause some problems:

  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been cleaned: Cleaning your wax guard should be a monthly (or so) upkeep routine. A wax guard filters out the wax but sometimes it gets clogged and just like any kind of filter, it has to be cleaned. Sound waves can be blocked if earwax is clogging up the wax guard and every once in a while, you will have to clean it.
  • You have replaced your wax guard with the incorrect model: Every model and maker has a different wax guard. If you buy the wrong model for your particular hearing aid, your device’s functions could be diminished, and that may result in the hearing aid sounding “weak.”
  • Your hearing aid shell is dirty: And let’s remember 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, 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 efficiency of your hearing aids).
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been replaced: Like any other filter, sooner or later the wax guard will no longer be able to properly perform its job. There’s only so much cleaning you can do to a wax guard! When cleaning no longer does the trick, you may have to change your wax guard (you can buy a special toolkit to make this process smoother).
  • You need a professional clean and check: At least once a year you should have your hearing aid professionally cleaned and checked to be sure it’s working properly. And in order to make sure your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you also need to have your hearing tested on a regular basis.

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

I Replaced my Wax Guard, What’s Next?

You should notice substantially improved sound quality after you switch your wax guard. You’ll be able to hear (and follow along with) conversations again. And if you’ve been coping with poor sound quality from your hearing aids, this can be quite a relief.

Similar to any complex 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 are fully charged, it may be time to replace your earwax guard.

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