Why are my hearing aids whistling?
A guide to hearing aid feedback problems
Today’s hearing aid technology makes it possible for many with hearing loss to enjoy their favorite sounds again. Whether it’s hearing the laughter of loved ones, a favorite melody or the sounds of nature, hearing devices can have a dramatic impact on our quality of life.
Why hearing aids whistle
Ever heard the sound when a microphone gets too close to a speaker? Better known as "feedback?" That's exactly what's happening when you experience the same sound when wearing hearing aids.
Unfortunately, these technological wonders aren’t without their social stigmas—one of which is hearing aid feedback. No one wants to wear something that calls attention to itself by emitting a high-pitched squeal or whistling sound.
If that’s what’s keeping you from treating your hearing loss, read on. Today’s hearing devices are much less likely to produce feedback.
And when they do, it’s often very simple to fix the problem.
What is hearing aid feedback?
Hearing aid feedback is what happens when the acoustic signal—or sound wave—escapes the ear canal and hits the hearing aid microphone. It can sound like a squeal, screech, whistle, loud buzz or hiss.
“It’s been around in hearing aids since the dawn of time,” Soriya Estes, owner of Texas-based Estes Audiology said. “The more severe your hearing loss, the greater the chances for potential feedback, simply because of the power and size of the sound wave.”
Hearing aid feedback problems less likely with newer devices
The likelihood of hearing aid feedback occurring has decreased in recent years because today’s digital processors are designed to control it, Dr. Estes said.
“Feedback with the new technology rarely happens in mild to moderate hearing loss cases,” she said. “If the device is working properly, fits well and the sound waves are going into the eardrum, then you won’t have that problem.”
What causes feedback in hearing aids?
There are three main types of hearing aid feedback: acoustical, mechanical or electronic.
Hearing aid static
If your hearing aid produces static, take it in for a check up. When a hearing aid produces this crackling sound, it usually means it needs service. It could be as simple as a low battery or build up of moisture or dirt.
Troubleshooting hearing aid feedback
Although hearing aid feedback noise isn’t harmful, it can be annoying and embarrassing. If the feedback is acoustical in nature, there are a few things you can try to fix the problem.
“First, make sure your hearing aid is seated properly,” Dr. Estes advises, meaning make sure it fits in your ear correctly. If repositioning your dome or earmold doesn’t work, she advises flushing your ear canal with an over-the-counter ear wax kit available at most drugstores or online.
Removing excess ear wax opens up the ear canal so sound waves can travel unobstructed to the eardrum. (While you're at it, you should also make sure your hearing aids are free of wax and give them a good cleaning.)
If you’re still experiencing feedback after you’ve tried these tips, see your hearing healthcare professional. They can check the device to see if there are any mechanical or electronic issues that need to be addressed, make sure the device fits properly and examine your ears to make sure they are clear of obstructions. In rare cases, you may need different devices, or new earmolds, since ear shapes can change with time, affecting how the hearing aids fit.
More: How to troubleshoot common hearing aid problems.
Don’t let fear stop you from seeking treatment
Above all, Dr. Estes emphasizes not allowing the fear of hearing aid feedback keep you from seeking treatment for your hearing loss. Left untreated, hearing loss puts you at risk for a variety of other physical and psycho-social issues, including dementia, depression and social isolation.
If you believe hearing loss is affecting your quality of life, make an appointment for a hearing evaluation as soon as possible. Our online directory of consumer-reviewed hearing clinics can help you find a qualified professional in your community.