COVID-19 Update: With social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many seniors are struggling with loneliness and isolation. We’ve developed a list of products that caregivers or seniors can purchase to help older adults stay happy, healthy and connected, whether they are aging in place at home or in an assisted living community.

Hearing loss is common, especially among older adults. One-third of seniors aged 65 to 74 have some level of hearing loss, while half of all seniors aged 75 and older report having trouble hearing. 

Hearing aids can help counteract hearing loss by amplifying sound through a tiny digital amplifier connected to an earmold placed directly inside the ear canal. Many hearing aids also filter out some specific frequencies to minimize background sounds and loud noises. 

Why Hearing Aid Maintenance Matters

Despite their tiny size, hearing aids are exceptionally powerful, high-tech devices that contain dozens of intricate electronic parts. As with all electronics, hearing aids need to be kept clean and well-maintained to optimize performance and prevent damage. 

Because the earmold portion of the hearing aid sits directly inside the ear canal, the mold can quickly become caked with ear wax. Not only is this unsightly, but wax on the earmold attracts dust, dander, pet fur and other contaminants. 

While ear wax is exceptionally effective at keeping the ear canal lubricated and free of harmful dirt and bacteria, it can have the opposite effect on a hearing aid. In fact, ear wax buildup is the most common cause of hearing aid malfunction because the wax can block the tiny ports containing the microphone and amplifier. When that occurs, users may find that sounds are distorted or less amplified. In some cases, ear wax can cause the device to stop working altogether. 

A hearing aid technician can perform a thorough, professional cleaning to remove wax buildup, and it’s a good idea to have an expert service hearing aids on a semiannual basis. On a daily basis, hearing aid users can keep their devices clean and well-maintained by following these simple steps: 

Step 1: Visually Inspect the Hearing Aids

Look the devices over in a bright, well-lit area to check for obvious signs of soiling. Ear wax often develops along the contours of the earmold, while dirt can also accumulate along the outer portions of the device. 

Step 2: Wipe Down the Device With A Lint-Free Cloth

Gently wipe down the entire hearing aid using a dry, clean cloth that doesn’t generate lint, such as an eyeglass cleaner cloth or a clean blue shop towel. Take care to wipe away from the ports rather than toward them, as this will help keep dirt and wax out of the hearing aid. 

Step 3: Clean Tight Spots With Wax Removal Tools

Specially-designed hearing aid cleaning kits sell for around $10-$20 and are available from hearing aid suppliers, drug stores and online retailers. These kits contain a variety of specialized tools, such as wax picks, tube cleaners, wax removal brushes and battery replacement magnets. 

Once the hearing aid has been wiped down with a clean cloth, use the tools in the cleaning kit to remove any remaining wax and debris. Some kits also include a blower that connects to the earmolds and tubes to remove any standing moisture from these areas. 

Cleaning Behind-The-Ear Hearing Aids

Behind-the-ear hearing aids consist of a small case that tucks behind the ear flap and an earmold connected to the case via a tiny tube. There are two types of earmolds that come with a BTE hearing aid — one type includes an integrated speaker, and one type is without a speaker.

If the earmold does not contain a speaker and the earmold is removable, the tube and earmold can be disconnected and gently washed with warm, soapy water. To prevent damage to the unit, the earmold and tube must be dried out using an earmold blower, then allowed to sit in a dry spot overnight before use. 

Hearing Aid Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts

Do:

  • Start with freshly washed, dry hands
  • Use a clean, dry lint-free cloth
  • Work in an area with good lighting
  • Wipe away from openings for the microphone and speaker

Don’t: 

  • Spray any liquids on the hearing aid, such as water or cleaning fluids
  • Use a damp or wet cloth
  • Immerse the hearing aid in water (except for the removable earmold and tube on some BTE devices)

Keep in mind that maintaining good ear hygiene is an important part of hearing aid maintenance, so be sure to keep the ears clean and free of excess wax.