Earwax, Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
Cerumen, more commonly referred to as earwax, is a yellowish substance secreted in our ear canals. Its primary use is for cleaning and protection of the ear canal/eardrum.
Earwax is produced in the outer one third of the ear canal and moves outward, carrying with it any dirt/dust/foreign bodies, that may have collected in the ear canal. Ear hair and jaw movement (for example when chewing food), assist with the movement of earwax outward towards the ear canal opening. Earwax also acts as a lubricant preventing the ear canal from getting dry and itchy.
So, in essence earwax is good for us and naturally cleans itself out, trapping and carrying out with it any foreign bodies that may have collected in the ear canal. Contrary to popular belief Q-tips are not to be inserted into the ear canal as it can push earwax deeper into the ear canal, and this repeated process can essentially build a wall of wax which could cause a temporary hearing loss until the excess wax is removed. Any excess earwax that collects by the ear canal opening or further out can be wiped off safely.
However, there are some disadvantages to earwax, specifically overproduction of earwax when it comes to hearing and hearing aids.
- Further Hearing Loss.
- Damage Hearing Aids.
- Cause Hearing Aid Feedback
- Reduce Hearing Aid Effect by Blocking Sound.
Further Hearing Loss
Excessive earwax build up can cause a blockage in the ear canal causing a temporary hearing loss for people with normal hearing, or further hearing loss for people with hearing loss until the wax is removed.
Damage Hearing Aids
Earwax can seep into the hearing aid circuitry causing permanent damage to the hearing aid which would require the hearing aids to be sent out to the manufacturer for repair. It is well known that earwax is the deadly enemy of hearing aids. Most hearing aid repairs are caused by wax or foreign material getting into the internal components of the hearing aid. Hearing aids should be routinely cleaned preferably in the morning after the hearing aids have been out of the patients' ears for a long enough time for the wax to harden and thus be easier to clean off.
Cause Hearing Aid Feedback
One of the reasons hearing aid feedback or 'whistling' occurs is due to a wall of earwax blocking the ear canal. A great analogy would be water coming out of a water hose. Normally water flows through the water hose in a relatively straight smooth line, but when you put your hand right up against the hose the water starts to spray everywhere. When you place a hearing aid up against wax the sound just sprays everywhere leaking out of the ear canal causing feedback.
Reduce Hearing Aid Effect by Blocking Sound
As discussed above earwax is the deadly enemy of hearing aids. Earwax can partially or fully block the microphones and receivers of the hearing aids. This results in either a decrease in hearing aid volume or the hearing aids not working at all. Routine daily hearing aid cleaning is highly recommended in order to prevent this from happening. Please consult with your Audiologist or licensed Hearing Aid Dispenser for questions or concerns regarding hearing aid maintenance.
Remember, do not insert Q-tips into the ear canal, instead just wipe of the excess earwax from the ear canal opening.
Till next time,
Kostas (Gus) Neoclis, Sc.D., CCC-A, Audiologist