Hearing aid users who may get regular ear infections often ask us if their hearing aid might have caused it. More often than not, people tend to think that ear infections are often considered a problem that only occurs in childhood. In fact, it’s assumed that you almost certainly will get an ear infection when you’re very young. However, for some people, ear infections don’t just occur in childhood, they can occur into and possibly throughout their adulthood as well. Here are some questions I have been asked regularly in my years as a Hearing Aid Dispenser:
- “Why do adults get ear infections? “
- “Does wearing a hearing aid induce or cause ear infections? “
- “I wear hearing aids so how can I avoid getting ear infections?”
So….can hearing aids cause ear infections? Though wearing a hearing aid does not directly cause ear infections, consistent use of hearing aids without proper regular cleaning techniques could very well result in increased susceptibility to ear infections. This may be due to microorganisms and bacteria growing and living on and in the hearing aid.
However, before you take your hearing aids out of your ears and throw them across the room, please try to understand what causes ear infections, why hearing aid users may be more susceptible to ear infections, how you can avoid ear infections, and what to do if you are a hearing aid user and get an ear infection.
Middle Ear Infection?
A common type of ear infection, sometimes called Otitis Media, occurs in the middle ear – the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the small, vibrating bones of the ear called the Ossicles. A middle ear infection is caused by fluid being trapped behind the eardrum and often stems from colds, cases of flu, or allergies. Upper respiratory issues, such as sinus or throat infections, can also lead to middle ear infections.
This can cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes. These tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the throat and nasal passage. Its role is to regulate air pressure in the middle ear. The presence of an infection can cause the eustachian tubes to become irritated and swell, which could then prevent them from draining properly. When the fluid inside the Eustachian tubes cannot drain, it builds up in the middle ear and can become infected.
Common signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection include pain in your ear, difficulty hearing (you feel bunged up, everything is muffled, or you feel a pressure sensation in the ear), drainage of fluid from the ear, and possibly a fever.
Outer Ear Infection?
Another type of ear infection occurs in the outer ear. The outer ear is from the entrance of the ear canal, up to the eardrum. This type of infection is called Otitis Externa, or sometimes referred to as “Swimmer’s ear” since it often begins as a result of water that remains in the ear after swimming or bathing. The moisture in the ear canal can become the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. A bacterial infection may occur in the outer ear if it is scratched or irritated – another reason you are advised not to poke anything into your ears. An old saying that’s been around for years is “Don’t put anything smaller than your elbow in your ears”.
Common signs and symptoms of an outer ear infection include pain in the ear, tenderness, redness and swelling. Ear infections can lead to pain and swelling in the ear canal, which can prevent a hearing aid from fitting comfortably. The infection can also affect the quality of hearing, making certain types of hearing aids uncomfortable to wear. This can last for several days and sometimes even weeks.
If you have any pain in your ears, contact your GP surgery as soon as possible.
Are hearing aid wearers more likely to get ear infections?
Wearing hearing aids do not necessarily cause ear infections.
However, if you don’t follow the advice that we give you in terms of regular cleaning, then those that wear them may be more prone to ear infections. In addition, if a hearing aid does not fit properly in the ear or is uncomfortable to wear, the ear canal may become scratched or irritated, which may lead to an infection.
One study some years ago investigated the presence or absence of bacterial and fungal microorganisms on the surface of hearing aids (Bankaitis, 2002). Researchers collected specimens from the custom hearing aids of ten participants. Results indicated light to moderate amounts of 10 different bacteria and 3 fungi from the hearing aids examined in the study. Each of the 10 hearing aids contained at least one bacterium, with Coag Neg Staphylococcus recovered from 9 of the 10 hearing aids.
This investigation stressed that it was not designed to determine “cause and effect” so, therefore, the data that was obtained did not identify hearing aids as a course for the spread of disease. However, the results discovered in the study should prepare hearing aid wearers to establish a proper cleaning routine for their hearing aids to avoid infection. Again, please refer back to cleaning blog highlighted earlier in this page.
How can I avoid ear infections when wearing Hearing Aids?
The best way, as already stated, is to keep a regular cleaning routine for your hearing aids. Cleaning and caring for your hearing aids may also help the hearing aids to sound better and to last longer.
Use the following tips to clean your hearing aids:
- Get the proper cleaning tools.
Your hearing aids from Hear4U will have come with a wax pick and soft brush. These tools are essential for successful at-home cleaning of the hearing aids. Earwax and debris can accumulate in the small vent or in the opening of the hearing aid where the sound comes out. This can cause feedback (whistling) or the sound seems weaker than normal. Use the pick to gently scoop the wax out of the vent area. Use the brush to gently clear the earwax away. Some hearing aids also come with replaceable “wax traps” or “wax guards.” These small pieces prevent wax from getting to the receiver of the hearing aid and causing the hearing aid to stop working. If you are unsure of how to replace the wax traps or how to clean the hearing aid, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.
- Get into good, regular habits.
Clean your hearing aids every day as we advise when we fit people with aids. By cleaning them each night when you take them out before you go to bed, you are allowing them several hours to “breathe” and dry out before wearing them again. Don’t use chemicals or alcohol wipes when cleaning hearing aids, as these products could cause damage to the devices. Also, leave your hearing aids out during your daily hygiene routine.
So, take them out when showering or bathing or when you wash your face and hair – in order to avoid soap and water causing damage. Put your hearing aids in only after you apply hair spray or gel as these products may also cause damage to the devices.
- Keep your hearing aids in a safe, dry place. DO NOT store them in your bathroom, because heat and humidity may cause damage to the hearing aid.
- You may also consider using a hearing aid dehumidifier, especially if you live in a humid climate or if you sweat a lot. There are two main types of hearing aid dehumidifiers. One is a plastic jaw with a desiccant that helps to draw out moisture when the hearing aids are placed inside. The other is called a dry & store, which uses ultraviolet light and light air to dry and sanitize the hearing aids. You can purchase these items from our online store by clicking here
- Have your hearing aids professionally cleaned regularly (about every 6 months). Hear4U or your provider can use specialist vacuums to suction any dust, debris, and wax from the hearing aids. We can also safely clean the hearing aid and change specific parts, as needed – wax filters, receivers etc.
If you are not sure how to properly clean or care for your hearing aids, you should ask for help from your hearing care professionals – such as Hear4U.
Another important way to avoid ear infections when wearing hearing aids is by ensuring that you are fitting it or them properly into the ear.
If the hearing aid is causing any discomfort, you may risk scratching your ear canal. An open wound in the ear may become infected. To avoid this, discuss your hearing aid fitting concerns with your hearing care professional.
What do I do if I wear a Hearing aid and I get an infection?
If you are a hearing aid user and you get an infection, don’t panic. Instead, let your ears get as much air as possible. Remove your hearing aids as often as possible, in order to allow your ears a chance to “breathe.” This is especially important if you wear an in-the-ear (ITE) style hearing aid since the hearing aid acts as a plug and does not allow much air from reaching the ear canal and eardrum. You should also keep your ears as dry as possible. If the infection has not eased or cleared in a few days, then you must consult your doctor – who can prescribe antibiotics or eardrops to help clear a bacterial ear infection.
If you have any pain in your ears, contact your GP surgery as soon as possible.
Throughout having the ear infection, it is very important to continue your hearing aid cleaning routine. It is very easy for bacteria to live and grow on your hearing aids. So even if your ears become clear of infection, an unclean hearing aid may cause you to re-infect your ears with bacteria.
Wearing hearing aids do not directly result in getting an ear infection. However, if you wear hearing aids and don’t clean them regularly, you may be more likely to get an infection.
Using the cleaning techniques I have outlined in this blog, in conjunction with the other blogs I’ve referred to, and also consulting with your hearing care professional, can help hearing aid wearers avoid common mistakes that may lead to infection.