The process of learning to hear again involves adaptation to a number of changes. Some of these are very positive changes and some require some understanding of the changes made to the hearing system when we put a hearing aid in the ear.

One change is the partial plugging of the ear canal creating an occlusion or feeling that your ears are stuffy like when you have a head cold. When you hear your own voice, you hear it two ways. First, through the vibration of the skeleton which happens when your vocal cords are in motion. You can demonstrate the “bone conduction” hearing of your own voice by firmly plugging the canals and talking. You can still hear your own voice quite well because you hear it from the inside. The sound of your voice is decreased if you allow some air to pass around your fingers while they are plugging the canals, not by removing the fingers, but by lifting them to allow air to leak in. This effect is similar to the use of venting in hearing aids. A hole is drilled through the aid to maximize the amount of air getting in the canal to reduce the sound of your own voice and the earplug sensation of the plastic in your ear. Those with better low pitch hearing will find occlusion to be more of a problem than those who suffer with loss in the low region.

Feedback is a very common complaint with hearing aids. It’s the whistling sound you have heard when someone near you has a hearing aid that is poorly fitted or adjusted. Feedback simply is amplified sound bouncing off the ear canal walls, eardrum and earwax, leaking out through the vent of the hearing aid or around the hearing aid and getting fed back into the microphone of the aid. So, feedback occurs if the aid is too loose, the aid is too small for the amount of power required, the vent is too large, the aid is put in the ear incorrectly, or ear wax has built up in the ear canal. With today’s technology, proper fitting and adjustment of hearing aids, feedback rarely occurs, even with telephone use.

Itching of the ears sometimes happens with hearing aid use. This is simply due to the moisture that collects between the hearing aid shelf or surface and the ear – kind of like the moisture on your legs when you sit on vinyl furniture. Your skin can’t breathe and it sweats – this sometimes itches. Sometimes skin that is very sensitive shows a mild allergy to the material used to make the hearing aid. Special hypo-allergenic materials can be manufactured to reduce this possibility if you have sensitive skin.

Wax accumulation is sometimes stimulated with the use of hearing aids and causes itching. The body’s natural defenses identify that there is something in the ear that is not normal. It begins to increase the wax production to try and move the intruder away. This is how we prevent debris from reaching the ear drum. The body doesn’t know what is there, only that it’s foreign and the natural defenses kick in. This doesn’t typically last long and will often calm down within the first several months of hearing aid use.

If you have wax accumulation, the most reliable way to get the canal cleaned is to have it done by an audiologist or ENT specialist. Do not clean the canal with Q-Tips. The Q-Tip is able to clean around the walls of the canal, but anything in front of the swab gets packed down toward the drum. This packed debris/wax has caused more problems and is more painful to remove.

The ear can be irrigated to remove wax. THIS SHOULD NEVER BE DONE ON A SURGICAL EAR OR AN EAR WITH A HOLE IN THE EARDRUM. A solution of half rubbing alcohol, half white vinegar can be used with a bulb syringe to gently irrigate the ear canal. The alcohol helps to dry the ear. The vinegar maintains a healthy pH balance to prevent growth of outer ear bacteria.

If your hearing aid is making a squealing noise:

If your hearing aid has no sound: