The quest for waterproof hearing aids: IP ratings

The quest for waterproof hearing aids: IP ratings

This is something I harp on a lot, but for good reason I think! When I was a kid, getting invited to a pool party was really exciting, but tempered by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able to really interact like normal without my hearing aid. My best friends knew about it and had no problem making sure I could read their lips, but as I got older and things were more “friends of friends” the prospect of explaining it and still having a good time got a little daunting.

Now I have a baby, and I’m realizing that I REALLY want a waterproof aid. I want to be able to take him to the pool, teach him to swim, and also just be social in a pool setting with other adults. Right now, if I went to the neighborhood pool alone (or with baby), it’d be a little awkward if someone tried to start up a conversation and I didn’t have my aid in.

Also, it’d be great to shower at home while baby naps instead of waiting for my husband.

I was so happy to finally have the money set aside this spring to get a Siemens Aquaris as a secondary aid for this purpose, but sadly it was discontinued in September 2016. If you can get your hands on one and have your audiologist program it, my understanding is that Siemens will support the servicing for a few more years. I haven’t decided if I really want to hunt this down.

Why was this the ONLY waterproof aid though? Then I dove into the world of IP ratings.

IP stands for Ingress Protection, and it’s for all electrical appliances, not just hearing aids. For example, the new Apple Watch’s IP rating supports the fact that you can wear it while swimming. But for aids, the higher the number, the better the aid can withstand adverse conditions like dust and water.

My current aid is an Oticon Dynamo, and it’s rated IP-58, which is really great for when I’m sweaty, or it’s simply a humid Virginia summer (like right now). But obviously I wouldn’t take it in the shower or the pool and my audiologist said so. The Aquaris was rated IP-68 and presumably, I would be able to do that.

Interestingly, I learned that it’s only the second digit in the IP rating that matters for water resistance. So, my current aid, IP-58, the 5 refers to dust resistance, and the 8 refers to water resistance. So, wait, then it’s the same as the Aquaris?

According to the IEC which publishes the IP code, an 8 rating for water means it will not be damaged in water depth up to 1.5m for 30 minutes. Obviously, I don’t plan to test this with my one hearing aid that cost several thousand dollars. But 8 is a really high number! According to the IP number table, even a 3 means it would arguably withstand a 5-minute shower and still work fine. So, what does it really take for me to go swimming and still hear?

These numbers adhere to an electrical standard, but I have read conflicting reports on things being tested in “standby” mode rather than continuous use, and things also being tested in manufacturer’s settings. So there is some variability. For now, the research continues, but if you’re literate in this kind of thing, I’d love your input!

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  1. This is fascinating–I never knew!

  2. Just came across your post. I’m not sure if you’re still looking for information about waterproof hearing aids but I’m an audiologist and have been looking into this as well.

    The IP rating on your current aids means that (probably) if submerged no damage would happen to the important electronics, but unfortunately the battery compartment is not water-tight so within a few seconds of contact with water it would have soaked the battery and stopped working. The Aquaris was the only aid with an air-tight battery compartment, allowing it to continue working in water.

    So far no other manufacturers seem to have taken up the challenge of creating a good quality waterproof hearing aid 🙁

    1. Author

      Thanks for the input! So interesting that it’s not actually the electronics in the aid that are the main issue, but simply the battery getting flooded. I wonder if this means that the next waterproof aids would be the rechargeable RIC ones that are now on the market.

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