Outer ear conditions and their impact on wearing hearing aids
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There are a number of conditions in your ear canal that can impact your use of hearing aids. Otitis externa, fungal tropical ear infections, swimmer’s ear, exostosis or dermatitis can all create problems. So what are these conditions and how can you stop them from affecting your hearing aid use?
Otitis externa can be a bacterial, fungal or allergic reaction in your ear canal. Otitis externa is often used to describe a number of outer ear conditions that may need medical attention.
Swimmer’s ear is one of these conditions. This can occur when water stays in your ear after going for a swim. The moist environment it creates can lead to a bacterial growth in the ear canal.
Otomycosis or ‘tropical ear’ is a fungal infection found in the outer ear. This is also a form of swimmer’s ear, but is often seen in people who live in warm, tropical locations (hence the name). This condition causes inflammation and dry skin in the ear canal. It can also be accompanied by a smelly discharge. It can be treated successfully with antifungal medications.
Dermatitis (or ear eczema) is triggered by irritants such as shampoo, hair dyes, and jewellery. It can be common in people who suffer from psoriasis or eczema. It’s characterised like other types of otitis externa with dry, scaly and itchy ear canals. Redness and swelling can also be apparent, which can certainly cause discomfort and further irritation when wearing hearing aids.
Exostoses (or Surfer’s Ear) is a condition where bony growths develop in the ear canal. This is often seen in people who swim a lot in cold water (ocean swimmers, surfers) and can cause a myriad of problems. The bony growths are a protective mechanism of the ear aiming to keep cold water away from the ear drum. Ear wax and water can get caught behind these bony growths. This leads to the ear not drying out and fungal infections developing. If the growths are particularly large, they can block the ear canal and cause hearing loss. Sometimes the growths need to be removed surgically. Larger growths may also impact on your ability to wear a hearing aid, or dictate the style of hearing aid that is suitable for you. People with exostoses usually aren’t suitable for invisible or canal type hearing aids.
Wearing hearing aids
It's also possible to develop otitis externa from wearing hearing aids if you don’t care for your ears and your hearing aids properly. If you’re prone to otitis media, wearing a hearing aid can be problematic and painful. Putting an object in your ear such as earmould or custom made in-the-ear hearing aid can exacerbate a current condition or increase the moisture in your ear to create the condition.
Wearing earbuds can also be problematic if you are susceptible to outer ear conditions.
If you do wear hearing aids (or any earpiece) and you experience otitis media, you’ll need to seek medical attention and generally not be able to wear your hearing aids until the condition is resolved.
Having otitis externa and putting your hearing aids in and out will just keep transferring the problem from aid to ear and back again. If you suffer from chronic otitis externa conditions but need to wear hearing aids, speak to your Hearing Healthcare Clinician about other options for hearing devices.
To wear your hearing aids successfully you need to clean them regularly.
This not only ensures that any blockage is removed from the sound bore, receivers and microphones, but it also helps keep bacteria off the piece that sits in your ear.
Your Clinician will show you how to clean your hearing aids when you first get fitted with them. If you’re unsure how to do this, ask your Clinician for assistance or refer to the hearing aid instruction manual.
Taking your hearing aids out at night, and cleaning them thoroughly not only helps keep the bacteria at bay, but it also lets your ears ‘breathe’ and dry out. You may consider using a hearing aid dryer with a UV light. This will help destroy any bacteria on the hearing aids. A dehumidifier for your hearing aids is also useful to get rid of any moisture.
Otitis media can cause some difficulties with hearing aids, but if you manage the condition quickly and follow medical advice, as well as keeping your hearing aids squeaky clean, this will help to avoid exacerbating the problem.