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

Your hearing aids don’t sound the way they should even though you recently changed the batteries. Everything seems distant, muffled, and not right. It’s like some of the sound is lacking. When you try to diagnose the problem with a basic Google search, the most probable answer seems like a low battery. Which annoys you because you charge the batteries every night.

But here you are with some friends and you can’t really hear their discussion. This is precisely the situation you got hearing aids to avoid. Before you get too upset with your hearing aids, there’s one more reason for this weak sound you may want to check: your own earwax.

A Home in Your Ears

Your hearing aids reside in your ear, normally. Your ear canal is at least contacted even by an over the ear design. Other models are designed to be placed inside the ear canal for best results. No matter where your hearing aid is situated, it will encounter an ever-present neighbor: earwax.

A Guard Against Earwax

Now, earwax does a lot of important things for the health of your ears (many studies have demonstrated that earwax actually has anti-fungal and antibacterial qualities that can help prevent various infections). So earwax can actually be a positive thing.

But the interaction between earwax and hearing aids isn’t always helpful–earwax moisture, in particular, can impact the normal function of hearing aids. The good news is, this isn’t really a surprise to hearing aid makers and earwax doesn’t often move in unpredictable ways.

So modern hearing aids have shields, referred to as wax guards, created to stop earwax from impacting the normal performance of your device. And those wax guards might be what’s creating the “weak” sound.

Things to Know About Wax Guards

There is a small piece of technology inside your hearing aid known as a wax guard. The concept is that the wax guard lets sound to get through, but not wax. Wax guards are indispensable for your hearing aid to continue working properly. But problems can be caused by the wax guard itself in some situations:

  • Cleaning your earwax guard needs to be done once a month: it’s been too long since you’ve cleaned them. As with any filter, a wax guard can eventually become clogged with the very thing it’s been tasked with filtering out. Sound waves can be blocked if earwax is clogging up the wax guard and on occasion, you will want to clean it.
  • You have replaced your wax guard with the incorrect model: Most hearing aid providers have their own unique wax guard design. If you get the wrong model for your particular hearing aid, your device’s functions might be impaired, and that could result in the hearing aid sounding “weak.”
  • You need a professional check and clean: In order to be sure that your hearing aid is working correctly, it should be cleaned once per year. And in order to be certain that your hearing hasn’t changed at all, you also need to get your hearing tested regularly.
  • It’s been too long since the wax guard has been replaced: Just like any other filter, sooner or later the wax guard will no longer be able to properly perform its task. There’s only so much cleaning that can be done to a wax guard! You might have to get a new wax guard when cleaning doesn’t (so that you can make this easier, you can get a toolkit made specifically for this).
  • You have a dirty hearing aid shell: When you’re changing your earwax guard, it’s important that your hearing aid shell be correctly cleaned also. If earwax is covering your hearing aid, it’s feasible, while you’re changing the wax guard, some of the earwax gets into the inside of the hearing aid (and, obviously, this would impede the function of the hearing aid).

If you purchase a new hearing aid guard, it will likely come with instructions, so it’s a good plan to follow those instructions to the best of your ability.

I Replaced my Wax Guard, What’s Next?

Once you’ve changed over your earwax guard, your hearing aids should begin producing clearer sounds. You’ll be able to hear (and follow along with) conversations again. And if you’ve been dealing with inferior sound from your hearing aids, this can be a real relief.

There’s certainly a learning curve when it comes to maintaining any specialized device like hearing aids. So just keep in mind: It’s likely time to change your wax guard if the sound quality of your hearing aid is poor even when the battery is fully charged.