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Can hearing aids cause ear infections or allergies?

Last update on Jun, 30, 2023

Even though it’s rare, hearing aids can have some side effects, including allergic reactions and ear infections. Learn how these conditions can develop and how to correct hearing aid usage can protect your ears from irritation. 

Ear infections and allergies affect people of all ages—and while they have different underlying causes, both are extremely common. Both ear infections and allergies often link to external factors that affect the body’s ability to function normally, including seasonal effects, skin irritants, food allergies or other ailments.

For hearing aid wearers, ear infections and allergic reactions can result from wearing their devices. Whether because of sensitive skin or improper usage, infections and allergies from hearing aids present challenges to your hearing health. Let’s explore how to treat and prevent these uncomfortable side effects

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Can hearing aids cause ear infections?

When your hearing aids sit in your ears all day, this can create an environment primed for bacterial growth. But that doesn’t mean you’re automatically at risk for negative side effects. Irritation and infection generally occur when wearing hearing aids without proper cleaning. Not only do improperly cleaned devices accumulate harmful bacteria that can turn into fungal infections, but moisture trapped by the earmolds of the hearing aids can cause the eustachian tubes to swell and trigger an ear infection. In short, hearing aids and ear infections aren’t necessarily caused by one another, but constantly wearing the devices without correctly cleaning them can increase your likelihood of experiencing ear conditions.

To prevent ear ailments, it’s crucial to talk to your hearing care professional (HCP) about your hearing aids and bring up any sensitivities you have to certain materials and your history of ear infections if you get them frequently. Miracle-Ear products are made from high-quality materials and designed to reduce the likelihood of issues. Should allergy or infection problems arise, your HCP will work with you to find a solution.

The most common type of ear infection occurs in the middle ear, also known as otitis media. Anyone can experience a middle ear infection, but children are much more likely to be affected. Middle ear infection symptoms often come on quickly and include:

  • Earache
  • Fever
  • Ear pain
  • Fluid drainage from the ear
  • Trouble hearing

In most cases, middle ear infections stem from bacteria or a virus affecting the middle ear. This infection often results from another upper respiratory condition, such as a cold, the flu or allergies, that causes congestion, fluid build-up and swelling of the nasal passages, Eustachian tubes and throat. While this type of ear infection often resolves on its own within three to five days, there are several methods for middle ear infection treatment to speed up recovery or manage pain:

  • Pain medication: Over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can provide quick relief from ear infection pain. Be sure to use the medications as directed on the label, paying special attention to instructions for administering to children.
  • Antibiotics: If the ear infection persists, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition. While medication can be an effective way to clear up these infections, antibiotics only work for bacterial infections and must be prescribed by a doctor.
  • Home remediesRemedies like warm compresses, dry ear drops, hydrogen peroxide, a saltwater gargle and rest can provide a meaningful stopgap measure to manage the pain and discomfort of ear infections. 

Middle ear infections can make wearing your hearing aids uncomfortable, as the sensitive skin of the inner ear is already aggravated. It’s also possible that your hearing aids could prevent the ears from properly draining excess fluid. At the same time, it’s extra important to clean your hearing aids thoroughly and store them properly to avoid introducing additional bacteria into the ear. If you’re unclear about how to cope with a hearing infection while using hearing aids, talk to your doctor. 

Otitis externa, or outer ear infection, is a condition that causes redness and swelling in the outer ear canal. Often called a swimmer’s ear, this condition affects the area from the eardrum to the outside of your ear. Quick treatment of this type of infection helps prevent further complications.

Outer ear infection symptoms are usually mild at the outset but can worsen if not treated appropriately. Below are some common symptoms:

  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Redness inside the ear
  • Ear discomfort
  • Ear pain
  • The feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Muffled hearing

In most cases, outer ear infections result from bacteria in the ear. Bacteria can develop due to moisture in the ear canal, exposure to contaminated water or damage to the ear canal’s sensitive skin through improper cleaning.

The best option for outer ear infection treatment is to address your symptoms quickly. Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor might recommend several options to stop the infection:

  • Cleaning: Your doctor might use a suction device to clean away discharge, earwax or dead skin.
  • Eardrops: Depending on the degree of your condition, your doctor might prescribe ear drops to reduce inflammation, fight bacteria and manage fungal infections.
  • OTC medications: If you’re experiencing pain from your ear infection, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen sodium can offer some relief. Consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Your hearing aids can be a risk factor for outer ear infections if cleaned or used improperly. Unclean hearing aids can introduce infection-causing bacteria into the ear canal, where it can grow in, on and around the device. At the same time, regular insertion and removal of hearing aids might further disturb irritated skin, causing infection to worsen. The type of hearing aid you use—whether it’s an in-canal, behind the ear or other—makes a difference, so talk to your doctor and your HCP about how to handle the situation.

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Can I lose hearing after an ear infection?

Regardless of the type of infection you’re experiencing, they can be painful, and you might experience some slight, temporary hearing loss due to fluid in the ear passages. Mild, short-term hearing loss is a common side effect of an ear infection and usually improves as the infection clears. However, if the infection becomes severe, more permanent damage might happen to the inner ear structures, resulting in permanent hearing degradation. If you experience an allergic reaction, keep your ears dry and clean, remove any excess wax  and remove any earplugs, earrings and hearing aids until the reaction subsides.

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Do hearing aids cause allergies?

Allergies to hearing aids are very rare but not impossible. They might occur if improper fit or cleaning causes fluid or wax buildup in your ears, if you have an allergy to the device materials, or you have very sensitive skin. In some cases, hearing aids can trigger dermatitis, but they might also aggravate dermatitis caused by soaps, creams or other topical treatments. However, if your device is fitted, maintained and worn properly, the possibility of skin irritation and allergic reactions is minimal

What should I do if I have an allergic reaction?

If you experience an allergic reaction you think could be linked to your hearing aids, remove them immediately and consult your doctor. After you get a diagnosis, a Miracle-Ear hearing care professional will work with you to find a new solution that prevents further allergic reactions. 

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How can I prevent ear infections?

Ear infections can be painful, annoying experiences, but there are ways to minimize your risk of getting them. When it comes to your hearing aid-linked infections, the best way to avoid them is to properly clean your devices. Establishing a consistent, daily cleaning routine is necessary to ensure that your hearing aids function at their best and keep your ears healthy.

A great place to start is establishing a nighttime cleaning routine after you’ve worn your hearing aids all day. Use a soft, dry cloth to wipe off any debris from your hearing aids and allow them to air dry overnight. Continue building your hearing aid maintenance routine by incorporating these tips:

  • Keep your hands dry any time you’re handling your hearing aids to prevent grease and dirt on your hands from clogging up the device’s delicate technology.
  • Clean on a soft surface to protect your hearing aids should they be dropped.
  • Do not use liquids such as water, cleaning solutions or alcohol, as moisture can damage your hearing aids.
  • Use hearing aid tools such as wax picks and bulb blowers to carefully remove excess wax and moisture from blocked microphones and sound ports.
  • Leave the battery door open on your hearing aids (if your device uses disposable batteries) to prevent moisture buildup.
  • Dry out your devices by placing them in a dry dehumidifier container or a cool, dry place overnight or when not in use.

Cleaning routines will look slightly different depending on the style of hearing aids you have, but by establishing regular, thorough cleaning habits, you can decrease your risk of infections.

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Can I use hearing aids if I have an ear infection ?

If you’re wondering if you can wear hearing aids with an ear infection, it is generally not recommended. Not only can wearing your devices aggravate the already sensitized skin inside your ear, but they can also prevent your ear from getting the proper ventilation it needs to heal the infection. Additionally, regular movement of hearing aids in the ear can push harmful bacteria further into the ear or allow it to grow. Consult your doctor about how to handle your hearing care during the situation and how long your ears might need to recover from the infection.

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Best hearing aid for allergy concerns

If you have allergy-related concerns about how to choose a hearing aid or questions about hearing aids and ear infections, schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional at your local Miracle-Ear hearing aid center.

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