Contributed by Susanne Jones, BC-HIS, customer support manager, Healthy Hearing
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2011. We have expanded it to republish today.
An individual should consider how long hearing aids will last when determining which pair to buy. However, just like buying a car, the actual mileage for an individual’s hearing aids may vary. While most modern high-quality hearing aids can be expected to last somewhere between three and seven years, two people can buy exactly the same hearing aid and have them last vastly different amounts of time.
Factors impacting how long hearing aids will last
There are at least nine factors impacting how long hearing aids last:
- Materials used to make hearing aids
- Frequency of cleaning
- Where hearing aids are worn
- How hearing aids are stored
- Hearing aid style
- An individual’s body physiology
- Frequency of maintenance
- Technological advancements
- Individual hearing needs
1. Materials used to make hearing aids
Today’s modern hearing aids are tiny computers worn on and at least partially in the human body, usually for all waking hours. Although they are designed to be durable, they have parts made of plastic, metal, silicon, polymers and other materials that may be subject to some degree of structural degradation over time. To get the longest life from your hearing aids, you can purchase aids that have a protective nano-coating on them to resist dust and moisture. You should also treat them gently to protect them from shock and impacts.
2. Frequency of cleaning
Most people would never dream of going months without washing their hair, face or body; however, they forget their hearing aids are exposed to the same environment — moisture, dust, skin oils and sweat, extreme temperatures and sunlight. All this occurs in addition to the earwax generated by your ear canal in its natural cleaning process. Some wearers only have their hearing aids professionally cleaned twice a year or so. This takes a toll on hearing aids and can significantly reduce their life expectancy. To help your hearing aids last longer, clean them daily as directed by your hearing care practitioner and have them professionally cleaned in the hearing clinic every three to four months.
3. Where hearing aids are worn
You can’t hear better if you keep your hearing aids in a drawer. However, hearing aids that are consistently in damp or dusty environments often have more performance issues than other hearing aids. If you’re concerned about the environments in which you wear your hearing aids, consult your hearing care professional for ideas about protective measures. You may need to use protective sleeves or schedule more frequent professional cleanings to extend the life of your hearing aids.
4. How hearing aids are stored
The way hearing aids are stored when you’re not wearing them can also be a factor in hearing aid life expectancy. Storing hearing aids with the battery door open and the battery removed in a hard, protective case will keep them safer. A case with a dehumidifier will keep them drier as well, which will also help them last longer. Ask your hearing care practitioner what type of storage case or dehumidifier options would work best for your hearing aids. Remove the batteries from hearing aids you will be storing for a long time, such as a back-up set. This will prevent battery corrosion from damaging interior parts.
5. Style of hearing aids
Conventional wisdom in the hearing aid industry is that behind-the-ear (BTE) styles tend to last somewhat longer than in-the-ear (ITE) styles. The reason behind this wisdom is more of the electronic components sit in the damp environment of the ear canal with ITE styles. However, recent technical advancements in nano-coatings on internal and external components may soon make this durability difference a thing of the past.
6. Your body’s physiology
Some body chemistries are harder on the plastic and metal components of hearing aids and tend to discolor or degrade parts much faster than others. Some people have very oily skin, produce a lot of earwax or sweat profusely – all of these factors can impact hearing aid life, too. You can’t control these things, of course, but if you have any of these issues you should discuss them with your hearing care practitioner when you’re selecting hearing aids.
7. Frequency of maintenance
Most hearing aids have some readily-replaceable parts, such as wax guards, earmold tubing and silicone earpiece tips. These parts are regularly replaced during routine maintenance visits with your hearing care practitioner. There are other parts which can usually be replaced or repaired in the clinic if they become damaged or nonfunctional, like battery doors, earmolds, external speakers and microphone covers. These types of maintenance activities are very important for making your hearing aids last as long as possible.
8. Technological advancements
Obsolescence can become an issue for very old hearing aids. After several years (usually between five and 10), hearing aid manufacturers may stop making replacement parts for a particular aid, which may make repairs on old hearing aids difficult or impossible. Software used to program hearing aids also changes over time and eventually becomes obsolete. This often makes it difficult to reprogram very old hearing aids. Hearing aid performance and features advance very rapidly. The technology in the most advanced hearing aids available six or seven years ago would be considered basic today. While some folks are content to stick with what they have if it still performs for them, many people who buy hearing aids find themselves wanting to benefit from the new technology that becomes available four or five years down the road.
9. Changing needs
Everything described up to this point focuses on the hearings aids themselves. Changing needs of the wearer can also affect how long hearing aids last. Sometimes after several years, an individual’s hearing loss can progress to the point where a more powerful hearing aid would suit them better. An individual’s lifestyle could change and require a hearing aid with more — or fewer — features. In cases where a hearing aid is replaced while it’s still functional, your hearing care practitioner can assist you in donating the used hearing aids to a worthy cause.
How do you determine which factors will affect your hearing aids?
Hearing aid durability is impacted by a variety of factors, many of which you can work with your hearing care practitioner to control. By partnering with your clinician, you can find hearing aids that fit your needs and keep them working well as long as possible. Call a hearing care professional in your area today to talk about it.