Hearing Aid Care and Maintenance

Now That You Have Hearing Aids, You Must Take Care of Them.

Keeping your hearing aids clean is the best way to get the most years and maximum performance from them. Diane McDonald/Getty Images

I recently purchased a set of in-the-ear hearing aids. I want to be sure that I am caring for them properly. What should I do to clean them?

When you remove the hearing aids at night, the first thing you should do is carefully wipe them down with a dry soft cloth or tissue. Next, inspect the portion of the hearing aid that fits down into the ear canal. If you observe earwax accumulating at the end of the aid, you will need to remove this.

Most manufacturers will provide you with a cleaning tool, which may be in the form of a brush, wire pick or combination of both. Finally, open the battery door and place the hearing aids in their case. Many hearing aids have an independent on/off switch. It is still advisable to open the battery door to allow air to enter the hearing aid and assist in reducing the effects of moisture that may accumulate when the hearing aids are in the ear canal. It also helps prolong battery life.

It is often best to remove the wax you noted at night in the morning before inserting your hearing aids because it allows earwax that has accumulated to dry overnight; drier wax is easier to remove. You will want to hold the hearing aid so the wax you are removing will fall OUT of the hearing aid and not further in (this often means holding it somewhat upside down). Using the brush provided for you, carefully brush around and in the plastic tubing to clear out the wax.

Some patients find that using an old toothbrush is an effective method for wax removal. Many times using the wire pick may force the wax deeper into the channel. 

I have a behind-the-ear style hearing aid. Is the cleaning procedure any different for this type of hearing aid?

The basic cleaning procedure is the same.

The only real difference is that there is ear mold, which is often made of lucite or silicone. There are no electronics in this portion of the hearing aid so you may be a bit more aggressive in going after ear wax with your pick or brush. There are special sanitizer sprays made for hearing aid ear molds that your audiologist can direct you to if further cleaning is desired. 

Please note this advice does not apply to RIC or RITE hearing aids as there are electronics in the ear mold portion. In this case, there is usually a removable wax guard to protect the electronics and your audiologist can show you how to change this as needed. 

Is it advisable to use alcohol swabs or cleaning solvents on the hearing aid?

No, do not use solvents or alcohol on the hearing aids as there is a possibly that they can breakdown the hearing aid material. There are special sprays you can purchase that are designed specifically for the cleaning and disinfecting of hearing aids. Talk to your audiologist about these products.

What precautions can I take to ensure that my hearing aids will operate properly?

I usually describe this in my “List of Don’ts”:

Don’t allow the hearing aid to become wet. Avoid showering, bathing, or going into the swimming pool or sauna with the hearing aids in your ears.

Don’t place the hearing aids in direct heat. It is tempting sometimes to place a damp hearing aid in the microwave or conventional oven. Unfortunately, the heat will damage the hearing aids in rather short order. To dry the hearing aid, simply open the battery door and allow it to dry out on its own or hold a hair dryer 18 to 24 inches from the hearing aid and direct warm air toward the aid for approximately 5-10 minutes. There are also special dehumidifiers or desiccants available that do a wonderful job in drying out the hearing aid. Talk to your audiologist about these items. Remember never store the hearing aids near direct sunlight or a heat source. Do not store them in your car during hot days.

Don’t drop the hearing aid. If the hearing aid falls on a carpet, rug or upholstered furniture it usually will not cause the aid any harm. Hard floored surfaces or counter tops have the potential of damaging the hearing instruments. Many individuals will start with a pillow on their laps or a towel on the table or counter while they are learning to insert the hearing aids in their ears.

Don’t use hairsprays, creams, or gels on your hair while wearing the hearing aids. These materials can clog the microphone and even begin to break down the plastic of the hearing aid case. Use your hair products first and then insert the hearing aids.

Don’t store your hearing aids where young children or pets can reach them. Pets can destroy your investment in a matter of seconds. Young children like to experiment with hearing aids and can accidentally swallow the batteries. If hearing aid batteries are swallowed immediately notify the doctor and call the National Button Battery Hotline collect at (202) 625-3333.

How does earwax affect the performance of the hearing aid?

First, the wax can clog the microphone or receiver of the hearing aid and thereby block sound to the ear. This is easily remedied by following the procedures described above. A large accumulation of earwax can also cause the hearing aid to have feedback or whistling. This is because earwax can be a very dense material. The amplified signal from the hearing aid bounces off the wax and back to the hearing aid where it is re-amplified and causes the whistling. It’s a little like throwing a rubber ball against a cement wall. If you are having unexplained feedback see your audiologist or physician. There may be earwax in the ear canal that needs to be removed. 

Peter A. Charuhas is an audiologist in Oregon.

Updated by Melissa Karp, Au.D

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