Why Hearing Aid Breakdowns are Largely a Misnomer

Household appliances seem to have a tendency of letting us down at the most inopportune moments. The car that won’t start when you have an appointment to get to, an oven that stops working in the hours before a dinner party, a clothes drier that gives up in the middle of a rainy patch, and let’s not forget, the hearing aid that stops working at the start of your overseas holiday!

As an audiologist, I may not be the most qualified person to comment on why household appliances break down, but I can say with some confidence, that the vast majority of hearing aid “breakdowns” are due to a lack of correct maintenance.

In fact most so-called breakdowns are not a true failure of the hearing aid circuit, but rather a simple service issue.

In 20 years of clinical practice, I’ve encountered more than a few a disgruntled wearers who bluntly plop a hearing aid at the reception counter with the comment, “it’s useless!” The poor hearing aid is again the target of ridicule, and the wearer is blameless!

All jokes aside, the most common reason a hearing aid may stop working is due to a simple wax blockage in the sound outlet or microphone port. In most cases once the obstruction is removed, the hearing aid is discovered to be working after all.

In all fairness, such service issues often arise despite the wearer’s best efforts and intentions. So what can hearing aid wearers do to better maintain their devices.

It is any irony of life, that the people who most commonly need hearing aids, are among those less well equipped to manage them. Good eyesight, fine motor-skills and a good memory are called upon to maintain hearing aids. If these skills are fading, it makes the job that much harder, but not impossible. A few carefully thought out precautions can save a lot of dramas.

Foremost is good lighting. If a good source of natural lighting is not available, it may be worthwhile investing in a magnifier lamp. These are readily available from electronic stores such as Jaycar, or haberdashery/craft outlets such as Lincraft. Good lighting will ensure you are actually cleaning the sound outlet properly and not simply pushing the debris around.

Secondly, find a stable place to carry out your hearing aid maintenance, such as a table or counter where you can work confidently and comfortably. Hearing aids cleaned on the run can easily be dropped and broken.

Thirdly, write out cheat notes if you have trouble remembering what to do, or ask your audiologist for a prompt card outlining daily maintenance. If need be, bring a friend or relative to the appointment who can provide further guidance at home. Read your instruction manual, they often contain tips for maintenance. If you are still unsure how to maintain your hearing aid, seek the assistance of reception staff, who can usually show you the basics

Fourthly, if your hearing aid has wax guards, change them regularly (every couple weeks) or if you strike a problem. If your hearing aid is worn over the ear, check the tubing for kinks or breaks, and have it changed a couple times a year.

Last but not least, be regular with your maintenance. It is easier to maintain a hearing aid than to fix a problem.

Of course the root course of wax blockages in hearing devices, is an accumulation of wax in the ear. If you are striking regular wax issues with your hearing aid, have your audiologist check your ears. An important aspect of clinical services at my practice is wax removal for hearing aid wearers. Minimizing wax build up in the ear translates to less frequent hearing aid issues.