Would you spend thousands of dollars on a life-changing item only to tuck it in a drawer, never to be used?
The answer would normally be a resounding ‘no’ but that’s exactly what 40 percent of Australians who buy hearing aids do with their devices.
That’s because many people are unaware there are simple fixes to the irritating issues that put them off using hearing aids. Starts at 60 spoke to Ryan O’Clair, an audiologist at Blamey Saunders Hears’ Brisbane clinic, to get the lowdown on how to solve common hearing aid problems.
O’Clair has a clinical doctorate of audiology and a wealth of experience working with hearing aid manufacturers in the US. He moved to Australia for the opportunity to work with Blamey Saunders Hears, the Melbourne-based company he says is “ahead of the curve in answering all the questions in the hearing health world”.
Here’s his advice for Starts at 60 readers who are keen for a solution to a hearing aid problem.
O’Clair explains that when you first start to use hearing aids for the first time or if you only use them occasionally (and especially if you put off getting them for longer than you should have!), it can take a while to get used to the amplification they provide.
“Give yourself time to adjust to the new sound,” he advises, but adds that “if your own voice and chewing and swallowing still seem uncomfortably loud after a few weeks to a month of wearing your hearing aids consistently, it may be worth having your settings adjusted.”
If you have Blamey Saunders Hears’ ‘self-fit’ hearing aids, you can adjust your settings yourself or with the remote assistance of hearing professionals who can step you through the process over the phone, email or livechat – or have the professionals do it for you using screen-share technology.
Another common cause of this echo-y sensation is the settings on the air vents of in-the-ear devices and ear-moulds. If your vents aren’t allowing sufficient air flow to your ear canal, your ears are effectively blocked and that make sounds seem unusually loud. Speak to your hearing care professional about adjusting them if you suspect this may be the problem.
This is an issue most commonly associated with in-the-ear hearing aids or the use of ear moulds with open-fit (behind-the-ear) hearing aids.
“Your hearing aid should definitely be comfortable,” O’Clair says. “An open-fit device will help avoid that feeling of a blocked ear, however, if you’re prescribed an ear mould or an in-the-ear device, it’s important to make correct use of the inbuilt vents that can be opened to allow more flow. Visit your audiologist and they will adjust the opening to ensure you’re comfortable.”
If adjusting your vent settings doesn’t solve the problem, you may need hearing aids that are less ‘occluding’ – in layman’s terms, that keep the ear canal open. If you opt against an open-fit hearing aid, you may need to have in-the-ear devices custom-made for the shape of your ear canal.
While a new battery should last about a week, O’Clair says there are a few common causes for speedy battery drainage. People with a high degree of hearing loss, for example, require more powerful function from their device and may see batteries run down more quickly.
Likewise, frequently using the Bluetooth functionality of your hearing aids adds to battery drain.
“But regardless of these factors, batteries should last more than three days,” he says. “If yours are draining every three days, it’s usually a sign that it’s time to have your devices serviced.”
Battery type may also influence lifespan. Air-activated batteries – the ones with a little sticker tab that you pull off to activate – begin running down as soon as they’re activated and lose power whether they’re in your hearing aid or not.
O’Clair says one option is to get into the habit of using your hearing aids as much as possible to get maximum use out of your batteries. Another option is to swap to a device that uses rechargeable batteries, such as Blamey Saunders Hears’ modular Facett hearing aid.
The Facett comes with two pairs of rechargeable battery modules so you can keep using your hearing aid with one module, while the other module charges. Plus, the battery module offers 40 percent more capacity than other rechargeable micro-batteries.
If you don’t own a rechargeable hearing aid, here are a few simple ways to extend the life of disposable batteries:
O’Clair advises changing hearing-aid batteries on a clear table if your hands are a bit unsteady. Some people change batteries on a folded towel so that the battery doesn’t roll away. To remove the battery, it may simply tip out or you may need to use a pen to poke it out.
But if you find it too hard to change batteries on your own and feel overly reliant on friends and family members to help you, it may be worth looking into a rechargeable device that doesn’t require fiddly disposable batteries.
Rechargeable hearing aids, such as the modular Facett hearing aid by Blamey Saunders Hears, contain batteries that can’t be easily misplaced and are easy to use even for people with reduced vision or conditions that reduce the mobility of their hands.
Facett’s rechargeable battery contains no lithium so is non-toxic, non-flammable and 100 percent recyclable. (It’s also the only rechargeable hearing aid that can be used while a battery is charging, thanks to its unique modular design.)
Whistling or ‘feedback’ is most commonly caused by a gap between the hearing aid and your ear, which is allowing sound from the end of the device that’s in your ear canal to leak out of your ear and back into the microphone at the front of the device.
Well-programmed hearing aids shouldn’t have this problem so if you’re hearing feedback, it’s possible that your device isn’t sitting properly in your ear. This could be the case for a few reasons.
Feedback can occur when an object, such as a hat or your hand, is close to the device’s microphone, which causes a noise that creates a ‘feedback loop’ you hear as a whistling noise.
Most hearing aids have features designed to minimise feedback by detecting and eliminating it before you can hear it. Of course, the more sophisticated the device, the better the feedback cancellation. For example, Blamey Saunders Hears’ hearing aids have adaptive feedback cancellation that eliminates feedback unusually quickly.
All types of hearing aids have the potential to cause moisture build-up, either behind your ear or inside it, although in-the-ear hearing aid wearers tend to be more prone to skin irritations or infections than those who opt for open-fit devices
O’Clair says there are a few easy ways to combat this problem, though.
No matter what type of hearing aid you use, make sure you wash your ears every day and dry your ears, skin and hair before putting on your hearing aids.
“If you have an in-ear device or ear mould, it’s important to ensure the vent is opened up enough, because this vent is kind of like a breathing cavity that allows the ear canal to stay more aerated,” O’Clair says. “This is important because the ear canal is a fairly dark area that becomes pretty damp, and excessive dampness can make the canal prone to bacterial infections!”
The audiologist advises giving your ears time to dry out throughout the day, by removing your hearing aids from your ears for about four minutes every few hours and using isopropyl alcohol swabs to clean the silicon ear piece or hard acrylic part of the device to cut down the risk of infection. Even keeping a handkerchief in your purse or pocket for drying while you’re on the go is helpful.
Sometimes, our bodies are just a bit too smart! O’Clair explains that wax is your body’s protective, antibacterial reaction to a device – or anything else – being placed in your ear.
“It’s good to have earwax,” he notes. “But it can become a problem if it gets compacted or creates a blockage.”
He suggests having your ears checked regularly for wax build-up, either by a healthcare professional or a helpful family member. “But don’t stick a cotton bud into your ear – your ear is a one-way street!” O’Clair cautions.
At Blamey Saunders Hears’ Brisbane clinic, O’Clair performs a comfortable, safe treatment called micro-suction to remove impacted wax. Your own healthcare professional may advise you to use special drops available from your chemist to soften wax to make it easier for a professional to remove.
“It doesn’t need to be like this at all!” O’Clair says. He notes that there are many accessories designed to allow hearing aid users to continue their favourite pastimes, including ones that can moisture-proof the device and keep it in place while you’re active.
For example, Blamey Saunders Hears has water-resistant sleeves designed to protect its hearing aids from dirt and moisture without impacting sound quality.
O’Clair points out that English rugby union star Mat Gilbert has conducted his entire professional sporting career while wearing hearing aids, having been diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of five, and has never let his devices stop him playing. Gilbert’s even revealed that he sometimes uses water balloons to protect his hearing aids when he’s playing in wet conditions.
“With more aquatic sports, it might require a conversation with your audiologist about different options, as each person’s ears are different,” O’Clair adds.
The hearing expert says that no matter what issue you’re experiencing, “don’t give up on a hearing aid you’ve got”.
“Speak to a hearing care professional for advice on making any necessary adjustments to improve your comfort. They may point you in the direction of products that enhance the experience of using your hearing aids.”
Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.
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