Living with hearing loss can be challenging, but the good news is that hearing aids can help you work around these difficulties and improve your quality of life. However, even the best devices can sometimes produce a high-pitched, annoying whistling sound, which can be frustrating. In this article, we’ll explore what hearing aid feedback is, what causes whistling, and how to get these noises to stop. Whether you’re a long-time hearing aid wearer or are considering purchasing them for the first time, here’s everything you need to know:
What is Hearing Aid Whistling?
Hearing aid whistling, also known as feedback, is a common issue affecting many hearing aid users. It is a high-pitched sound produced by the device and can be heard both by the wearer and the people in close proximity. The whistling sound can be intermittent or constant, ranging from a soft hiss to a loud screech.
How Feedback Works
Feedback occurs when the microphone picks up sound from the hearing aid speaker and re-amplifies it, creating a loop of noise that causes a “whistling” effect. This is similar to what can occur with a microphone and speaker system. If you’ve ever attended a conference or live music performance and heard a sudden, unpleasant, screeching sound that echoes, that’s an example of feedback. Here’s how sound typically travels through a hearing device:
- In many hearing aids, when noise enters the microphone, it’s converted into an electrical signal processed by the device’s digital signal processor (DSP).
- The DSP then amplifies the signal and sends it to the hearing aid speaker, which converts the electrical wave back into sound, delivering it to the ear.
However, if the sound from the speaker leaks back into the microphone, it re-amplifies and bounces back and forth, causing whistling. This loop can continue as long as the hearing aid is on and can be heightened by factors like your ear canal shape and size, the device’s amplification levels, and the acoustic properties of the environment around you.
What Causes Whistling in Hearing Aids?
Several factors can contribute to hearing aid whistling, including:
- Poor hearing aid fit: If your hearing aid does not fit properly, it can create gaps between the device and your ear, allowing sound to leak out and produce that feedback loop. Incorrect fit can occur due to sizing issues, positioning of the earmould, or improper placement each time you put it in.
- Ear canal blockage: If there is an obstacle in your ear canal, such as earwax or other debris, it can cause sound to bounce back and forth between the hearing aid and the blockage, creating feedback. This can also lead to reduced amplification and overall performance of the hearing device.
- Wax buildup: Earwax can accumulate on the hearing aid microphone, causing it to become blocked and create a whistling effect. Ensure you regularly clean the device and your ear canal to prevent this from happening.
- Amplification levels: If the hearing aid amplifies too much sound, the microphone can easily pick this up and produce feedback. This is often the case when the device is first fitted, and the amplification levels need to be adjusted. An experienced audiologist can help adjust these levels to prevent whistling.
- Environmental factors: Certain environments, such as windy or noisy conditions, can also contribute to hearing aid whistling. This is because the sound waves from the atmosphere can cause the hearing aid to pick up and amplify ambient noise. Loud or complex noises with specific frequencies may be difficult for the device to process without producing feedback.
It’s important to note that hearing aid whistling can occur even when the device works properly. However, if it persists, it may point to problems with the aid or the wearer’s hearing. In either case, it is beneficial to see an audiologist so they can check the functioning of your device and evaluate any potential hearing changes.
How Do I Get my Hearing Aids to Stop Whistling?
If you experience whistling or feedback from your hearing aids, there are various steps you can take to resolve the issue:
1. Check the Fit of Your Hearing Aids
Ensure your hearing aids are correctly inserted and fitted in your ears. If you use earmoulds, check that they fit snugly in your ear canal. If you use domes, review if they are the right size and provide a secure fit.
2. Clean Your Hearing Aids
It’s essential to keep your hearing aids clean and free of debris, earwax, or moisture. Use a clean, dry cloth or a specialized cleaning kit to wipe down the device and remove any accumulated dirt or moisture. Try to do this as regularly as possible.
3. Adjust the Volume and Settings
If you experience feedback, it may be because your hearing aids amplify too much sound. Try turning down the volume or adjusting the settings to reduce the amplification levels. If you’re unsure how to do this, consult your audiologist.
4. Replace the Batteries
If your hearing aid batteries are low, they may not be able to power the device correctly, which can result in feedback. Try replacing the batteries with new ones to see if this resolves the issue.
5. Avoid Covering Your Hearing Aid
Try to avoid blocking your hearing aid with hats, scarves, or other items, as covering the microphone can cause feedback. Similarly, avoid resting your head or hands on the hearing aid.
6. See Your Audiologist
If the above steps don’t resolve the issue, it may be time to see your audiologist. They can thoroughly examine your hearing aids and make any necessary adjustments or repairs. Additionally, if whistling persists, it could indicate an underlying problem with your hearing, which these professionals can help you identify.
How Do I Know if a Hearing Aid is Working Properly?
It’s important to regularly check your hearing aids to ensure they’re functioning properly. Here are some signs your device may not be working correctly:
- No sound: If your hearing aid is turned on, but you don’t hear any sound, it could mean your battery is dead, the volume is too low, or the hearing aid is malfunctioning altogether.
- Muffled or distorted sound: Unclear, indistinct, or distorted sounds can indicate that your hearing aid needs to be cleaned or adjusted. If the problem persists after cleaning or changing the settings, visit your audiologist.
- Feedback or whistling: As discussed previously, whistling sounds can have various causes. If the steps for troubleshooting and fixing this problem don’t work, it may be time to consult a professional.
Other signs that a hearing aid does not work correctly include inconsistent performance, discomfort, and pain.
When Should I Visit an Audiologist?
While feedback can occur with even the best devices, if it’s an ongoing and frequent concern and you’re unsure how to stop it, the best thing to do is speak to an audiologist. Visit one of our many locations at Robillard Hearing Centres (now part of HearingLife), and we’ll be happy to assist you!
We have the knowledge and experience to examine your unique situation and can help make recommendations to improve your hearing experience. In collaboration with HearingLife, we offer the latest technology of hearing solutions, including Oticon Real™️, the next-generation hearing aid designed to combine everyday comfort and sound clarity, even in the windiest of environments. With this device, you can discover what it truly means to stay connected and love your ears!
Keep in mind that regular check-ups with your audiologist are a vital part of maintaining healthy hearing and enjoying the benefits of these devices. If you notice any changes in how you receive sound, book a hearing test with us today.