Ear infections are a common occurrence in children, but they can also be present in adults. While ear infections are treatable and usually resolve within a few days or weeks, they can be a particularly frustrating occurrence for hearing aid users.
Types of Ear Infections
The main types of ear infections are:
Outer ear infections
Also known as otitis externa or swimmer’s ear, this is an infection of the outer ear canal.
Middle ear infections
Known by the scientific name otitis media, middle ear infections can be further divided into two types. Normally when fluid builds up in the ear, Otitis media with effusion (OME) occurs. Bacteria can then grow in this fluid, triggering acute otitis media (AOM), the second type of middle ear infection which is usually accompanied by pain and fever.
Inner ear infections
An inner ear infection is not always a true infection. Instead, it’s an inflammation of the parts of the inner ear that are responsible for hearing and balance. They are usually caused by a virus.
According to the CDC, ear infections can occur for several reasons. You may get them after having a cold or after an injury to the ear. Injuries can result from foreign objects such as cotton swabs. Exposure to cigarette smoke may also trigger ear infections. People with a family history of ear infections are more likely to experience infections themselves.
The Link Between Hearing Aids and Ear Infections
Hearing aid users may want to take extra safeguards against infections. A 2014 study compared the ears of hearing aid users to those of non-users. Those who used hearing aids were found to have more occurrences of ear canal debris than those who didn’t use them. The buildup of debris can cause ear discharge, swimmer’s ear, and wax formation.
According to Harvard Health, the buildup of earwax can damage the hearing aid itself, accounting for between 60% and 70% of hearing aid repairs. While earwax is a natural cleanser for your ear, ridding it of dead skin cells, hair, and dirt, too much wax can lead to earaches, infections, and damaged hearing aids.
How to Treat an Ear Infection as a Hearing Aid User
Getting an ear infection as a hearing aid user may cause your hearing aids to fit improperly, and they can become uncomfortable to wear. Due to the swelling and inflammation, infections can also change the acoustics of your ear, affecting your quality of hearing for the duration of the infection.
If you do get an ear infection, follow these steps to help make it manageable:
- Let air circulate around your ears. Don’t keep them covered up for too long with hats or earmuffs.
- Remove your hearing aids when possible so that your ears can breathe, particularly if your type of hearing aid keeps air from easily reaching your eardrum.
- Don’t get your ears wet.
- Sit up when eating and drinking.
- Wash your hands frequently and wipe off your hearing aids when you take them out.
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen if needed for pain and inflammation.
Many ear infections go away on their own. If yours doesn’t clear up within four to five days, or if your symptoms worsen, see your doctor.
Preventing Ear Infections with Hearing Aids
When it comes to preventing ear infections, hearing aid users can follow common ear infection prevention methods, such as those recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
- Take safeguards against getting the cold or the flu.
- Avoid secondhand smoke.
- Control your allergy symptoms.
- Receive all recommended vaccinations, including the flu shot.
- Practice proper hygiene.
You’ll also want to treat your hearing aids like an extension of your own body. To prevent infections from being caused by your hearing aids, keep them as clean as possible.
Taking Proper Care of Your Hearing Aids
Taking proper care of your hearing aids is essential to preventing infections and keeping them in working order. Use a soft brush or cloth you received with your hearing aids to clean them. Follow the instructions you were given, and don’t be afraid to ask for instructions to be repeated to you.
According to Karen McQuaide, an audiologist from New Jersey, be sure to take the following steps to keep your hearing aids functioning properly:
- Keep them away from heat and moisture. Don’t store them in a damp or hot room. Put them in the case when you’re not using them.
- Use hair care products and dry your hair before putting your hearing aids in.
- Replace dead or dying batteries immediately. When the hearing aids are not in use, open the battery door to keep the device from draining power.
- Make an appointment with your audiologist every four to six months for proper maintenance and cleaning.
Moisture is the enemy of your hearing aids, causing damage to your devices and increasing your risk of infection. Be careful not to expose them to moisture when you go swimming, wash your hair, or use products like sunscreen and bug spray.
Hearing aids are beneficial, life-changing devices for individuals experiencing hearing loss. With proper care, ear infections don’t have to prevent you from getting the maximum benefit possible out of your hearing aids.