Hearing aids are tiny instruments made with even tinier parts: the microphone, circuit chip, and speaker (receiver).
Hearing aids deliver sound into the ear through a narrow “sound tube.” This tube is about the size of the lead in a pencil or a small strand of spaghetti. Because the tube is so tiny, it takes only a minuscule amount of earwax to clog up the opening and stop the hearing aid from functioning.
You might think that anyone who wears hearing aids would be aware of this common problem. However, most patients are surprised when they first encounter it.
The sound tube is usually white, but it can be any color. Sometimes the tube may not be visible because it is covered by an earmold, a dome, or a wax filter.
Earwax can easily get into the hearing tube through the sound outlet. That’s the tiny opening at the end of the tube that the amplified sound comes out of. If the tube gets fully plugged with earwax, the hearing aid goes dead. If it is partially plugged, the amplified sound is reduced.
UNCLOGGING THE SOUND TUBE
If you wear hearing aids, take a careful look at the sound outlet in each instrument. You need to know the exact location of this opening so that you can unclog the hearing tube.
Many devices have been developed to keep the tube free of wax: filters, screens, domes, and wax traps. All of these help some, but no one has come up with a real solution. Thus, the problem of wax-impacted sound tubes continues to this day.
When wax gets into the sound tube, it is difficult to see. So, when you are trying to spot wax, which is usually dark-brown colored, use a bright reading light and magnification. I use an otoscope that has both bright light and magnification, but a good reading light and a small magnifying glass work equally well. If your vision is weak, ask a friend or family member who sees well to help you look into the opening of the sound tube.
To clean an impacted sound tube, use the little wire-looped tool that came with the hearing aids. Insert the wire loop through the sound outlet and into the sound tube along the edge of the tube. Pick out any wax that you find. Be careful when inserting the cleaning wire not to push the wax deeper into the tube. The secret to successful cleaning is to get the wire behind the wax and pull it out.
If you need help with this procedure, your audiologist or hearing aid specialist will be glad to assist you. Many hearing aids come with a little cleaning cloth, but wiping the hearing aid off with a cloth will not help open a plugged sound tube.