Earwax and Hearing Aids

Dealing With Buildup and Avoiding Impaction

Photo of a child getting a new hearing aid
A child gets a new hearing aid. Photo: China Photos / Getty Images

If you wear a hearing aid or use an earmold with a cochlear implant, you may have noticed ear wax (earwax), also known as cerumen, on the earmold. A buildup of earwax in an earmold user can:

  • Damage a hearing aid
  • Cause hearing aid feedback
  • Reduce the effectiveness of the hearing aid by blocking sound
  • Causes a poor fit
  • Cause (further) hearing loss

Hearing aid manufacturers say that 60 to 70 percent of devices returned for repair have a problem that developed due to earwax buildup.

Wax reduces the function of the diaphragm. Over time, the acids in the earwax can degrade the components of the hearing aid.

How Hearing Aids Lead to Ear Wax Problems

Hearing aid users are at especially high risk for ear wax buildup. The presence of a foreign object in the ear seems to stimulate more wax production by the cerumen glands. The ear is normally self-cleaning, but when there is an in-ear hearing aid, the ear wax may not dry and slough from the ear as much as usual.

You will receive instructions on how to clean and care for your hearing aids or earmolds to prevent wax buildup. Hearing aids need to be cleaned daily, allowed to dry overnight and cleaned with a brush in the morning to remove wax and debris. If you don't perform this cleaning step consistently, you reintroduce wax and debris into the ear. The wax trap should be replaced every three months or whenever the hearing aid isn't working.

Keep in mind that using cotton-tipped swabs in your ears is believed by clinicians to lead to more cases of impacted earwax. Using any object to clean your ear is believed to be risky and should be avoided.

Ear Cleaning With Hearing Aids

Hearing aid users face a dilemma when it comes to ear wax. Nobody should try to remove ear wax by themselves.

The best thing to do is leave the ear wax alone and let the ear clean itself out naturally. If you try to clean it out yourself, you risk pushing the wax in more deeply, making it impacted.

At the same time, a hearing aid or earmold prevents the ear from being able to clean itself out naturally. Therefore, a hearing aid user will have to make regular trips to a healthcare professional to have their ears checked for impacted earwax. The guidelines from the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recommend that people who wear hearing aids have their ear canals checked on each visit to a healthcare provider or every three or six months. Your healthcare provider can inspect your ears with an otoscope to see if you have any impaction that needs to be treated.

If your ear is blocked with earwax, your healthcare provider may treat it with a wax-dissolving agent, irrigation, or manual removal. Be sure to follow your doctor's advice to treat any buildup of earwax.

Source:

Schwartz SR, Magit AE, Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline (Update): Earwax (Cerumen Impaction). Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery. 2017;156(1):14-29. doi:10.1177/0194599816678832.

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