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What Is That Foul Odor On My Hearing Aid?

Brad Ingrao, AuD, MS, CCC-A, FAAA

November 28, 2005

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Question

How can you prevent or keep the hearing aids and ears from having a very awful smell?

Answer

What a great and important question! First of all, pick up the phone and make an appointment with your ear, nose and throat doctor. Next, wipe off the phone with rubbing alcohol, and keep reading.

The natural oils and wax found in ears tends to have a slight odor which gets transferred to your hearing aids and earmolds. An "awful" smell, however, usually indicates the presence of either a bacterial or fungal infection which needs to be evaluated. This often occurs when the ear canal is scratched by a small piece of dirt caught under your earmold or hearing aid or a finger nail. As a reader of www.AudiologyOnline.com and www.HealthyHearing.com I'm assuming you're smart enough not to put anything else in your ear!

Placing an earmold or hearing on this wound traps moisture and creates a warm, moist environment which is ideal for the development of an infection. When your earmold or hearing aid rests against this wound, the infection is passed to its surface and it picks up the foul odor. One of the most common causes of these infections, also known as otitis externa is a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This very aggressive bacterium almost never takes hold in healthy tissue, but is almost 100% effective at taking root in areas that are compromised in some way, as in the example of the scratch above.

Otitis externa, particularly the strain caused pseudomonas, can be very persistent and requires the attention of an ear, nose and throat physician. You should not wear the hearing aid or earmold until the infection is cleared, and the hearing aid and earmold should be professionally cleaned by your audiologist. If you must wear your BTE hearing aid, your audiologist can provide you with disposable earmolds such as the Comply Canal Tips or Comply Snap Tips made by Hearing Components www.hearingcomponents.com/products.htm.

Until recently, hearing aids and earmolds contaminated with pseudomonas were considered casualties of the war, however, data from Phillips Corporation indicates that exposure to 55 joules per square meter of ultra violet light will kill 90% of the pseudomonas bacteria on a surface. The Dry and Store hearing aid conditioning system, in addition to drying out the moisture in your hearing aids, delivers between 660 and 1,100 joules per square meter in it's germicidal cycle ehost1.zfx.com/OZXmp/eartech/files/Germicidal_Lamp_Technical_Sheet.pdf 72% of regular users of the Dry and Store report reduction of itching ears and recurrent external ear infections www.eartech.com/index.cgi?CONTEXT=art&cat=8&art=10

You can read more about the Dry and Store at www.healthyhearing.com/library/interview_content.asp?interview_id=54

and more about keeping your ear canals healthy at www.healthyhearing.com/library/article_content.asp?article_id=216

Brad Ingrao, AuD, has been an audiologist for 14 years and specializes in addressing the needs of musicians as well as patients with severe to profound hearing loss. He is particularly familiar with sweaty ears as he has a 15 year old Deaf son.


Brad Ingrao, AuD, MS, CCC-A, FAAA

Editor, Electronic Deaf Education Network

Brad Ingrao, M.S.Ed., has a long history of responding to the needs of consumers, parents and colleagues through his participation on over a dozen hearing loss-related listservs and a pro-bono website for parents. As the Coordinator of Audiology Information Services of the Hearing Instrument Manufacturers' Software Association, he addresses quality and accessibility issues in software used for fitting hearing aids.  He authored a multimedia software tutorial for the hearing aid industry that was one of the first such tools to include closed captioning.  Brad serves on the Advisory Board for AudiologyOnline.com, HealthyHearing.com, raisingdeafkids.org  and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Greater Boston Chapter of SHHH.  He is also an adjunct
lecturer in audiology, and part time clinical supervisor at Northeastern University.


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