Hearing aids are expensive and durable yet fragile. Eventually, hearing aids will need tune-ups (by an audiologist) and repairs. Some of these repairs are easy, do-it-yourself jobs. Other hearing aid repairs will require an expert.
Let's take a look at what can go wrong with a hearing aid and explore quick fixes you can apply. We will also explore how to maintain these invaluable instruments to lessen the likelihood of future problems.
How Much Does It Cost To Repair A Hearing Aid?
The cost of repairing a hearing aid will depend on the policy of the manufacturer. Manufacturers generally offer a one to four-year warranty on repairs for accidental damage or mechanical breakdowns. There is also usually at least a one one-time replacement for lost or unrepairable hearing aid(s). Generally, if a hearing aid or a pair of aids has been replaced, the warranty will no longer be in effect.
Even where a warranty pertains, the replacement of hearing aids may require the customer to pay a deductible of several hundred dollars. This may not be surprising since an individual hearing aid ranges in price from the most basic (about $1,500) to the most advanced ($3,000 or more).
Once the warranty has ended, the average price for a mechanical repair could range from $300 to $400. Since hearing aids are delicate devices subjected to rigorous use, they are likely to develop problems at least a couple of times a year and the costs add up.
Because hearing aids can last from five to seven years, well past the end of the original warranty, it pays to look at options for further coverage. When the original warranty is about to expire purchasing an extended warranty from the manufacturer or a licensed hearing aid provider are two options.
Another option might be purchasing personal insurance. If you have healthcare insurance, call and ask if there is coverage for hearing aids or if you can add it on. At present, many insurance companies refuse to cover hearing aids, not finding it cost-effective. When it is offered, it may well cost around $300 a year per hearing aid.
All considered, if you’re going to invest in hearing aids, paying for an extended warranty or personal insurance (whichever is the better deal) only makes sense.
What Can Go Wrong With A Hearing Aid?
Despite all the technological developments resulting in smaller, lighter, and easier to use hearing aids, and regardless of how you paid, things can still go wrong.
The chief cause of hearing aid repairs comes from exposure to moisture. Anything sitting inside a warm, moist, and oily ear canal is already threatened. Forgetting to remove the hearing instruments before bathing or swimming could be damaging. Also, a humid climate, especially when combined with strenuous activity, almost assures periodic repairs.
Another major issue is a less than desirable cleaning regimen. Hearing aids must be cleaned daily (and more often, if circumstances demand it). The tools and cleaning solutions used must be those recommended by a professional. A client should reinforce this regimen by taking their hearing aids in to be professionally cleaned every three to four months.
Additionally, many repairs are required because of rough treatment. These instruments, though surprisingly durable, are also fragile. The tiny computer, the mic, speaker, ear tube, and battery door are just some of the components that can be impaired from being dropped or stored improperly.
There’s also, of course, normal wear and tear. As time goes on, ear tubes can deteriorate, battery door hinges wear out. Expect a certain number of repairs throughout the life of your hearing aids, no matter how careful you are.
How Long Should My Hearing Aids Last?
Regardless of how well-made your hearings aids are, be prepared to upgrade when necessary. Whether it’s that advancing technology has made your model difficult – if not impossible – to repair or replace, or that your hearing loss needs have changed, expect to need new hearing devices every four or five years.
The most common issue negatively impacting hearing aid life is poor maintenance. Among other significant problems are exposure to moisture, sun, extremes of temperature, various bodily substances, and harsh treatment. The cleaning kit that comes with the hearing aids should include a soft brush and a wax pick. Be sure to get instructions on how to use them.
For those subject to an unusual amount of body oil, ear wax, or perspiration, talk to your hearing care professional about what you can do to reduce the effects on your hearing aids.
Many different elements impact the duration of a hearing aid. Among them are the following.
- The current state of the individual’s hearing, which could change at any time. If the wearer is experiencing problems with their current prescription, their hearing aid professional can perform a “real-ear measurement” to determine if the hearing aids are performing up to standard.
- How well cleaned are the hearing aids and how often? Daily cleaning is imperative to remove debris. Also disinfecting the aids prevents inner and outer ear infections.
- How the aids are stored when not in use. (More on that below under “How to maintain your hearing aids.”)
- Where the aids are worn; exposure to moisture will shorten the life of your aids. Approximately half of hearing aid repairs are due to moisture damage. Your audiologist may recommend hearing aid “sleeves” to further shield aids from dust and moisture.
- The quality of the materials used to make the hearing aids matters. Look for a protective “nano-coating” which greatly reduces the amount of dust and moisture that can enter and harm the aids.
Why Would A Hearing Aid Stop Working?
Today’s hearing aids are, by and large, quite reliable. Even so, these small devices can be temperamental. Throw in user error, and problems will ensue.
These are the most common problems for hearing aids:
- Irregular and incomplete maintenance and cleaning in the home. The buildup of wax or dirt plugs the speaker, microphone, or earmold (if you wear a behind-the-ear model). If your hearing aids have a wax guard, replace every two to three weeks.
- Failure to visit the audiologist for a professional cleaning every three to four months.
- A dying or dead battery, whether a traditional disposable or rechargeable.
- In the case of rechargeable batteries, not having fully charged it.
- In the case of disposable batteries, having left the batteries in the hearing aids after removing the aids. Hearing aid batteries will corrode the battery compartment when not in use.
- High humidity, extremes of cold or high temperatures may all prove problematic. Possible problems that could result are cutting out, buzzing, whistling, and increased battery drain. Ask your audiologist for advice on coping with the elements.
If in doubt about what the problem is, visit a hearing care professional. They can ascertain if the issue is the hearing aid, too much wax buildup in the ear, or some other cause.
Quick Fixes For Hearing Aids That Stop Working
Some of the following suggestions for quick fixes may seem obvious, but it can be the “obvious” that trips us up. Perhaps especially so when we’re just getting used to a new piece of technology or are just plain frustrated.
- Never forget that weather, combined with one’s daily activities, can lead to accumulations of dust, dirt or moisture affecting hearing aids. Always have the means at hand to clean your equipment.
- Ultimately, if none of the following suggestions work, you should contact your audiologist.
- Is the hearing aid is turned on? If it is, check the volume settings.
- If the batteries are removable, are the batteries inserted correctly? Readjust. If the hearing aids still don’t work, try fresh batteries.
- In the case of disposable batteries, open the battery compartments to look for corrosion. Take out the batteries and clean them and the battery contacts in the recommended manner.
- If the batteries are rechargeable, have they been fully charged?
- Feedback or whistling could mean the aids are not positioned correctly in the ear. Take them out and reposition.
- If you’re still getting whistling or feedback, try reducing the volume.
Hearing aids contain mini-computers. Just like laptops, sometimes turning them off and then on again solves the problem.
Often, distorted sound means the speaker, microphone, or earmold needs a good cleaning. No matter how well they were cleaned the night before, depending on the weather or what you’ve been doing, substances can accrue quickly.
Did you wear your hearing aid in a shower or when swimming?
- Rinse the hearing aid thoroughly to remove soap, shampoo, or any other possible impurities.
- Then place the hearing aid in a tightly closed container of uncooked rice or silica gel.
- Leave for about 12 hours; that should be long enough for the rice or silica gel to soak up the moisture.
- An even easier approach, if you have the time: lay the hearing aids on dry newspaper and let them air-dry for 24 hours.
Other methods for drying out a hearing aid include using a blow dryer set to the lowest setting (ideally a “cool” setting) or placing near – not too near – a table lamp. Never place a hearing aid in direct sunlight or too close to any source of heat.
How To Maintain Your Hearing Aids
Proper hearing aid care can substantially prolong the device's usefulness. Well cared for aids are more comfortable, less likely to need repairs or replacement, will experience longer battery life, and will provide better sound quality, and will ultimately cost you less money.
For the record, until recently it was accepted in the industry that behind-the-ear (BTE) aids lasted longer than in-the-canal hearing aid (ITC) models. This was because the latter were exposed to more moisture, sitting in the ear as they do. The new nano-coatings, though, have pretty much leveled this playing field.
Here are some tips for maximizing the life, sound quality and comfort of your hearing instruments.
- Adherence to daily maintenance and cleaning of the hearing aids as advised by a trusted audiologist. Never use a cleaning solution or any implement not recommended for your hearing aids.
- Have them cleaned by a hearing care professional every three to four months. At that time, the professional will repair or replace faulty parts (battery doors, ear tubes, external speakers, etc.).
- Be conscious of how you handle the aids; the gentler you are, the longer the aids will last.
- Ask your audiologist about a “dry and store” box to remove moisture from your hearing instruments. These dehumidifiers can include a UV-C lamp function that purportedly kills 99.9% of bacteria, removing a primary cause of ear discomfort.
- If you use disposable batteries, always take out the batteries when you remove the hearing aids to prevent corrosion in the battery compartment.
- Rechargeable batteries should be charged every night. When the aids are not in use, place them in the charger. Charging generally takes from three to five hours.
- If using disposable batteries, store backup batteries in a cool and dry place (but not the refrigerator where moisture can damage them).
Hearing aids can make all the difference, reconnecting the wearer with the outside world and those they care about. Having made the initial investment for the aids themselves, it is only sensible to spend a bit more to protect these precious devices and the initial investment.
Read the original warranty carefully. A few months before the warranty expires, investigate purchasing an extended warranty (from the manufacturer or a hearing aid provider). Also, check your insurance policy; even if it hasn’t covered hearing aids and repairs in the past, it may now, or you may be able to purchase additional insurance for this purpose.
As an aside, though Medicare provides no financial assistance for the purchase or maintenance of hearing aids, Medicaid may cover all or part of the cost of purchase as well as repairs and replacement costs. Medicaid benefits vary from state to state. If you qualify for Medicaid, then contact the Medicaid program for your state for details.
Most fundamentally, repairs can be kept to a minimum if the person wearing the hearing aids follows their audiologist’s instructions on maintenance and cleaning. And remember: handle with care!