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Could Earwax Damage Your Eardrum or Hearing Aid?

An ear drum has been damaged by ear wax.

The ear naturally produces earwax as a way of keeping itself clean. Pores in the ear canal secrete earwax – a sticky substance – which then gets transported by tiny hairs in the ear towards the outside where it dries and flakes off harmlessly into the environment. 

Wearing hearing aids and some medical conditions, however, can disrupt this natural process and cause a buildup of earwax in the ear. 

Take hearing aids, for instance. Some hearing aids take up a large volume of space in the ear canal, pressing against the interior walls. This pressing action prevents the ear from naturally transporting wax from the inside to the outside, leading to a buildup. The wax then accumulates near to the eardrum and can potentially lead to further problems with hearing and discomfort. 

Can earwax damage your eardrum? 

It’s rare for earwax itself to damage the eardrum. The most common symptoms from excessive earwax buildup are partial hearing loss (because sound waves can’t reach the eardrum) and a feeling of fullness in the ears. People with excessive earwax buildup also experience earache and tinnitus, or continual unwanted noises with no physical origin. 

While earwax itself doesn’t damage the eardrum, the attempts that people make to remove it can. Many people, for instance, use cotton buds to remove compacted earwax from in front of the eardrum. The shape of the cotton bud, however, often serves to push the wax further into the ear. If you’re not careful, you can push too hard, forcing the earwax up against the eardrum and perforating it. 

Ear candling can damage the eardrum too. Ear candling involves using a tube and a candle to remove the wax from the ear. The idea is that the suction created by the heat can pull earwax away from the eardrum and provide the patient with relief. The evidence, however, shows that ear candling is both ineffective and dangerous and should always be avoided. 

Can earwax damage your hearing aid? 

Earwax can damage hearing aids, even passively, which is why manufacturers and hearing instrument specialists provide detailed cleaning instructions to go with their products.

Hearing aids, as we’ve discussed, can stimulate the production of cerumen (earwax) in the ear. The ear sees the hearing aid as a foreign object that it wants to remove, and begins churning out lots of wax to get the job done. This excess production is harmless in itself, so long as you regularly clean your hearing aid to remove the excess. But too much earwax in the hearing aid can create problems. 

Often, hearing aid users will find that earwax builds up over the opening for the speaker – the part that sits closest to the eardrum. When wax covers the speaker, it dulls the sound coming from the hearing aid, making it seem as if it’s not working as well. 

Earwax can also penetrate the body of the hearing aid if you don’t clean it regularly. Earwax on the interior of the device can damage the sensitive circuitry and PCB and force you to replace the entire thing. 

You also need to be careful of the action of earwax on the various vents which surround your hearing aid. Like all electronic devices, the processing units and other components inside hearing aids give off heat. Hearing aids, like most devices, have small vents to allow heat to escape. When these vents are blocked, it can affect the performance of the hearing aid and stop it from working optimally. 

The vast majority of hearing aid repairs come about as the result of some issue related to earwax. Hearing instrument specialists estimate that between 60-70% of all hearing aid repair cases they see are related to the effect of earwax. 

How to protect your hearing aid from earwax

Hearing aids are sophisticated and valuable pieces of technology. It makes sense, therefore, to look after your hearing aid and take precautions to make sure that earwax doesn’t damage it. By regularly cleaning your hearing aid, you increase its lifespan and reduce the number of times you have to go to your hearing instrument specialist for replacements. 

Many people who own hearing aids choose to have them professionally cleaned. Hearing aid professional cleaners use special tools not available to the average hearing aid owner. These tools remove all traces of earwax safely. 

If you want to learn more about cleaning your hearing aids, then get in touch with Integrity Hearing Solutions at either of our office locations: Mechanicsburg, 727-602-3899 or Carlisle, 717-245-2437.