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

You just exchanged the batteries, but your hearing aids just don’t sound the way they should. Everything seems distant, muffled, and just a little off. It’s like you can’t hear the full sound you’re supposed to be getting. When you research the situation, a low battery appears to be the most likely reason. Which frustrates you because you charge the batteries every night.

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

A Residence in Your Ears

Your hearing aids reside in your ear, usually. Your ear canal is at least contacted even by an over the ear model. Other versions are manufactured to be positioned in the ear canal for best results. No matter where your hearing aid is positioned, it will be close to an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

Earwax Guards

Now, earwax does some important things for the health of your ears ((various infection can actually be avoided because of the antibacterial and anti-fungal qualities of earwax, according to many studies). So earwax can actually be a good thing.

But the interaction between earwax and hearing aids is not always helpful–the standard functionality of your hearing aid can be impeded by earwax, particularly the moisture. On the plus side, this isn’t really a surprise to hearing aid manufacturers and earwax doesn’t often move in unpredictable ways.

So a safety feature, known as wax guards, have been put in place so that the normal function of your device isn’t hampered by earwax. 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 called a wax guard. The idea is that the wax guard lets sound to go through, but not wax. Wax guards are indispensable for your hearing aid to keep working properly. But there are some instances where the wax guard itself could cause some issues:

  • When you purchased your new wax guards, you got the wrong one: Most hearing aid makers have their own special wax guard design. Sound that is “weak” can be the outcome if you purchase the wrong wax guard for your model.
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard was cleaned: Cleaning your wax guard should be a monthly (or so) maintenance task. Much like any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the very thing it’s been tasked with eliminating. Every every so often, you’ll have to clean the guard or the wax caught up in it will start to block sound waves and mess up your hearing.
  • You need a professional check and clean: In order to be sure that your hearing aid is functioning correctly, it needs to be cleaned once per year. And in order to make sure your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you also need to get your hearing tested on a regular basis.
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been changed: Just like any other filter, sooner or later the wax guard will no longer be able to properly perform its job. A wax guard can only be cleaned so much. You might need to get a new wax guard when cleaning doesn’t (you can purchase a specialized toolkit to make this process easier).
  • You have a dirty hearing aid shell: When you’re switching your earwax guard, it’s important that your hearing aid shell be properly cleaned as well. If your device shell is plugged with earwax, it’s feasible some of that wax could make its way into the interior of the device while you’re swapping the guard (and, naturally, this would impede the function of the hearing aid).

If you buy 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.

I Changed my Wax Guard, What’s Next?

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

Much like any complex device, hearing aids do call for some regular upkeep, and there’s certainly a learning curve involved. So don’t forget: It’s most likely 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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