Why Don't My Hearing Aids Work?

When you rely on hearing aids to hear and understand speech clearly, it’s beyond frustrating when they don’t work properly.

In my clinics, we receive phone calls daily about hearing aids that have stopped working.

While this is sometimes the result of a faulty device, there are many reasons that hearing aids may be malfunctioning that can be fixed at home.

I’m going to share a few of the most common complaints that I hear about hearing aids not working, as well as some quick remedies to get them back up and running.

Hearing Aids Have No Sound

If you aren’t hearing any sound out of your hearing aid(s), it’s important to walk through a few troubleshooting steps to try and identify where the problem is occurring.

To do this, you first need to understand the components of the hearing aid that can fail.

Try this first:

Restart your hearing aid (either open and shut the battery door if you use disposable batteries, or place your hearing aid in the charger, let it sit for a second, and remove it if you use rechargeable devices).

Quickly put the device in your ear.

Do you hear the startup tone, but then no amplification?

If yes, that means that the device is able to deliver sound (it can play the startup tone, so sound is passing through the speaker into your ear), but it’s not picking up the external sound to amplify.

Try taking a clean toothbrush and brushing off your microphone openings. With a behind the ear device, the microphone openings are typically on the back of the device – look in your instruction manual if you’re not sure where they’re located.

With devices that fit inside the ear like completely in canal (CIC) or invisible in canal (IIC) devices, you likely have microphone covers that are replaceable that were included with your hearing aids.

Be aware that debris like hairspray, earwax, and dead skin can block microphone ports and cause devices to stop producing sound.

If you hear the startup sound but the above tips don’t help, you probably need to bring the device in to be professionally cleaned and repaired by your audiologist.

If you don’t hear the startup tone after restarting your hearing aid, here are the next steps:

Most likely either the device is truly dead, in which case it will need to be professionally repaired, or the sound is being stopped by some sort of blockage in the sound port of the hearing aid.

The most common cause of hearing aids that don’t produce any sound is a plugged wax guard or sound opening.

If your devices use a wax guard or wax filter (typically a white filter at the opening of the earpiece), your best bet is to replace that filter.

If you’re in a pinch and don’t have any replacement filters, you could temporarily remove the filter with a bobby pin or something similar.

If you do this, make sure you get a replacement wax guard quickly, as the internal components of your hearing aid are now exposed to wax and other debris, which could lead to a more serious problem that would lead to a manufacturer repair.

You will know immediately after removing the old filter if this is the cause of the problem, because sound will immediately come out of the hearing aid (assuming you have a good working battery in the device and the device is powered on).

Watch the video below to see how to remove and replace a typical hearing aid wax guard.

Hearing Aid Feedback (Squealing sounds)

Feedback is an embarrassing and annoying nuisance that can be caused by ill-fitting or improperly inserted hearing aids.

In order to fix feedback, you need to first know what causes it.

Feedback is a phenomenon that occurs when the amplified sound from a hearing aid leaks out of the ear canal and is picked up by the microphone of the hearing aid that produced the sound.

When the hearing aid re-amplifies its own sound, this leads to feedback. It’s much like what happens when a microphone gets too close to a PA speaker when someone is presenting.

If you have experienced feedback from the day you were fit with your hearing aids, it’s likely that they don’t fit properly, or don’t create a good enough seal in your ear canal to prevent sound from leaking back out of your ear.

This is a problem that you should address with your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser. If they’re unable to resolve it, don’t give up!

This isn’t a fatal flaw of your hearing aids. A skilled audiologist can help you find a good fit with your hearing aids that will prevent feedback in most situations (in some cases if you have significant hearing loss, the hearing aids may be loud enough to cause some feedback if you put your hand near your ear, even with a good fit).

If feedback is a new problem that you haven’t experienced in the past, it’s probably not a problem with the function of your hearing aids.

First, try taking out and reinserting the offending hearing aid. Make sure the fit is deep and snug in your ear canal.

If you use domes rather than a custom earpiece, make sure that you’re using the correct dome that’s the same size and style as what you were originally fit with.

If the problem persists, it could be due to earwax or other debris in your ear canal reflecting the sound back out of your ear. Over the counter ear cleaning solutions like Debrox may clear out earwax, but if not you might visit your local audiologist or ENT doctor to examine your ears and clean them out as needed.

If you’ve done all of the above and still experience feedback, contact the clinic that you purchased your devices from for professional troubleshooting and possible repair (however it is uncommon for feedback to be related to a manufacturer repair, so if your provider keeps sending in your devices for repair because of feedback you may consider a second opinion).

I hope these tips have helped you resolve your hearing aid issues at home. Remember, hearing aids are sensitive electronic devices that spend most of their time in a hot, waxy, sweaty environment. They should be cleaned by you daily, and should be examined and cleaned professionally every 6 months.

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