Do you remember your parents’ or grandparents’ hearing aids whistling? Feedback occurs when amplified sound leaks out of the ear and then goes back into the microphone. We have all been at a presentation when someone holds the microphone to close to the speaker and there is that terrible loud noise. The same thing can happen with hearing aids – a primary hearing aid complaint for many years – but thankfully, the type of feedback from today’s hearing aids is not the same whistling shrill your grandparents experienced!
Fortunately, modern hearing aids have technology that specifically works to reduce or eliminate feedback. The hearing aids can hear their own feedback- they can detect that they are whistling, and they generate a signal to cancel out their own feedback. This all happens in the blink of an eye, so the most a person often hears is a brief chirp and the sound stops. That being said, there are certain situations and occasions when feedback can still occur.
When Does Feedback Occur?
The most common occurrence we see in the office is ear wax (cerumen). If a patient’s ear is clogged with wax, all that amplified sound reflects off the wall of wax and leaks out of the ear. Instead of most of the sound going down the ear canal and to the ear drum, all the sound is reflected back out of the ear. The feedback suppression system does it’s best, but feedback will occur. Fortunately, once the wax is removed, the feedback is resolved. Often if a patient comes in and says everything was fine for months but then all the sudden, one ear is experiencing feedback. We can guess that there’s wax in the ear without even looking.
Adjusting the Frequency
Many modern hearing aids connect to a cell phone app as a remote control. With the app, the patient can increase and decrease the overall volume, but also specific frequencies. Patients find it helpful to increase the high frequencies when they want a little extra clarity in particularly difficult listening situations. However, high frequencies are notorious for causing feedback. Patients should know that if they boost up the high frequencies temporarily, they may experience feedback if they put a hand toward their ear.
When hearing aid feedback does occur, it can be a rushing, white noise or a tonal sound. Modern feedback does not sound like our parents’ hearing aids whistling!
Inside a Hearing Aid Case
The genesis of rechargeable hearing aids has also caused an ongoing discussion about feedback. Most new rechargeable hearing aids turn on automatically when you take them out of the charger. Therefore, if you take the hearing aids out when you go to the gym or to take a shower, there is no battery door to open to turn them off. If you close your hearing aids inside a travel case, they’ll probably whistle until you put them back in your ears. That’s OK because feedback does not hurt or damage the hearing aids. Sometimes your audiologist can set up the button on your hearing aids to put the hearing aids in “sleep” mode for those times when you take out your aids, but you don’t put them in the charger. But sometimes just knowing that the feedback is expected, and not harmful, is enough to reassure hearing aid wearers.
Overall incidence of feedback has dramatically reduced over the last ten years but if you’re experiencing troublesome feedback from your hearing aids, please let your audiologist know.
Advanced Specialty Care offers complete Audiology care for children through adults. From hearing evaluation, preservation and protection to evaluation and treatment of hearing and balance disorders, we focus on your total hearing health, not just your ability to hear. Call (203) 830-4700 to click here schedule your audiology or hearing aid appointment in one of our 4 convenient offices throughout Connecticut in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield.
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