4 Reasons Why Follow-up Care is So Critical to Hearing Aid Performance

Dr. Cliff Olson
December 19, 2018
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4 Reasons Why Follow-up Care is So Critical to Hearing Aid Performance

4 Reasons Why Follow-up Care is So Critical to Hearing Aid Performance. Dr. Cliff Olson, Audiologist and founder of Applied Hearing Solutions, discusses why follow-up care is so critical to optimal hearing aid performance.

We’ve all experienced it – clogged ears. But what causes your ears to feel clogged? Here, I will cover four main reasons that your ears feel clogged.

Reason #1: Earwax

As the name suggests, earwax is a natural waxy substance that’s secreted by the skin glands in your ear canals. Earwax is important because it coats and lubricates the ear canal, and protects against things like fungus and bacteria.

Earwax typically migrates out of your ear canal on its own, but there are some cases where either ear canal anatomy or using Q-tips can push that earwax down further inside your ear and it doesn’t actually come out. This is what we call impacted earwax.

The professional removal of earwax involves three options:

  • Curet – having earwax picked out
  • Suction – to suck it out of your ear
  • Irrigation – using water to flush it out of your ear

If earwax is too dry, it can become very hard, which makes it difficult to remove. If this is the case, you’ll have to use some kind of earwax softener, like Debrox. I do not recommend trying to pull earwax out on your own. That’s how you can injure your ear, and you’ll have more problems than just some built up earwax.

Reason #2: Eustachian Tube Dysfunction

The Eustachian tube is a tube that connects from your middle ear space to your throat. The dysfunction occurs when that tube is either swollen or won’t open to allow passage of air when you swallow or yawn. If this tube gets clogged, it can either create a positive pressure inside your middle ear space, or more often, a negative pressure inside your middle ear space. This will retract your eardrum to the point where it actually causes pain. The sensation you would usually feel is the need to pop your ears.

Eustachian tube dysfunction coincides with having a cold or sinus infection, and it could also lead to the buildup of fluid inside your middle ear space. When you have a retracted eardrum or fluid inside of your middle ear, both of these things restrict the movement of sound from your outer ear through to your inner ear, which can create that muffled sensation.

There are circumstances when you have this Eustachian tube dysfunction, and a virus or some bacteria gets into the fluid of your middle ear space and it can result in a middle ear infection. Middle ear infections typically give you the sensation of pain, because of the inflammation and the infected fluid that’s behind the eardrum. If you do have this sensation, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Reason #3: Outer Ear Infection

Sometimes known as swimmer’s ear, outer ear infections happen when your ear canal becomes inflamed and produces some kind of pus or fluid that leaks from your ear. When this leaking fluid is thicker and infected, it typically means you need to seek medical care for antibiotics or treatment on your ear canal to get it to go away. Now remember: if you’ve just gone swimming, you may just have some water inside your ears. Give your ears a chance to dry out and make sure that’s not the reason before you seek medical attention.

Reason #4: Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss

This is the most serious of the causes of sounds feeling muffled or your ears feeling clogged. Some of the symptoms of sudden hearing loss are:

  • The occurrence of hearing loss without a real reason. You either wake up and can’t hear out of one of your ears, or you’re driving in your car and all of a sudden, the sound just goes out in one of your ears.
  • Sudden hearing loss in one ear only. Typically, sudden sensorineural hearing loss happens in one ear, though it can happen in both ears.
  • Sudden hearing loss that is not accompanied by pain.
  • Sensation of dizziness.
  • Fullness in your ear.
  • Tinnitus – the ringing or buzzing that may occur in one or both ears.

Typical causes of sudden sensorineural hearing loss are:

  • Virus that is destroying your cochlea, your inner ear hearing organ
  • Tumor, which may be rapidly growing on your auditory nerve

Both of these situations are extremely serious and need to be diagnosed right away in order for treatment to be successful for you. A lot of people mistakenly assume that earwax is causing sudden sensorineural hearing loss, and that isn’t always the case. Treatment for this condition often includes:

  • Injection of a steroid through your eardrum
  • Oral steroids
  • MRI to make sure that it is or is not a tumor

These are the four main reasons your ears might feel clogged. Sometimes, it may be something as simple as having earwax removed from your ears, while other times, you can save your hearing by treating it sooner rather than later.

Video Transcript

I often talk about how important customized hearing aid fitting an programming using Real Ear Measurement is, but I don't talk enough about the critical importance of follow-up care.  There are 4 main reasons why you should be seeing your hearing care professional no less than 2 times per year:

1. Your ears are GROSS!  -   Most people produce significant amounts of earwax and this earwax can block your ear canals and stop sound from your hearing aids which can limit your benefit.  In most states, Audiologists are licensed to perform professional earwax removal (aka Cerumen Management) that can keep your ears nice and clean so earwax doesn't block the sound coming from your hearing aids.

2. Your hearing aids are also GROSS!  -   Hearing aids are precision medical devices that are not intended to go for long periods of time without maintenance.  My guess is that you clean your car more often than you clean your hearing aids.  Even if you do clean your hearing aids, your hearing care professional can do it better.  The will often disassemble your devices and clean out every last speck of debris so it doesn't degrade the sound quality of your hearing aids.

3. Your hearing aids will eventually malfunction.  -  Hearing aids are designed to function within a specific set of parameters, and even slight deviations from these parameters can reduce your benefit from those devices.  Reduction in overall output (Max OSPL & HFA), or an increase in Total Harmonic Distortion, or Equivalent Input Noise (EIN) can cause a reduction in your hearing aid performance without you even knowing it.  Your hearing care professional can perform Electroacoustic Analysis (EAA) to ensure that your devices are performing up to specs.  

4. Your hearing can change.  -  Just because your hearing loss was at one level last year, doesn't mean that it hasn't changed since then.  Even a small change in your hearing ability can change your hearing loss prescription.  If your prescription has changed, then your hearing aids need to be reprogrammed.  If you have a confirmed hearing loss, you should be getting your hearing tested every year to monitor changes.The vast majority of hearing aid users  see their hearing care professional at least 2 times per year, and so should you.  

This will help to keep your hearing devices performing at their optimal level.  So unless you want to spend thousands of dollars on hearing devices only to have them perform like a crappy pair of online amplifiers, then I recommend you see your hearing care professional more often.

Dr. Cliff Olson
Audiologist & YouTuber

Dr. Cliff is an unwavering supporter of Hearing Aid Best Practices and advocate for individuals with hearing loss, which inspired him to develop the Dr. Cliff Approved Provider Network.

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Dr. Cliff Olson

Audiologist & YouTuber