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Why Do Hearing Aids Whistle? Let's Talk Feedback

The Irritating Phenomenon of Hearing Aid Feedback

So you probably recognise the situation, you are sitting there minding your own business and then someone turns to you and says your hearing aid is whistling. The shock and horror sets in. Or, you lean in to hug someone you love and suddenly there is an ear-splitting squeal. While this was a once a normal part of wearing a hearing aid, it isn't really any longer. Modern hearing aids should not generally whistle, however, there are times that it may still happen. Let's talk about feedback, what it is, how it happens and what may be causing it. Welcome to the world of hearing aid feedback. 

What is Feedback

The whistling or squealing noise that is sometimes emitted from hearing aids is called auditory feedback or just, feedback. Hearing aid feedback is always a seal problem, no I don't mean fluffy ocean-going animals I mean seal as in tight. It is caused by amplified sound that leaves your ear and finds its way back into the microphone.

From there, the sound is re-amplified by the hearing aid system which causes that annoying whistle. It is exactly the same effect caused by people with microphones on stage going to close to the speakers. The problem can occur when you put your hand up to your ear, when you’re hugging someone, while you’re inserting or removing your hearing aid, when you wear a hat, a headscarf or when you sit in an enveloping chair.

Occasional hearing aid feedback is perfectly normal and you should be able to stop it by making sure your hearing aid is in your ear properly. However, if you are experiencing feedback often there may be something else wrong with your hearing aid. If you hear whistling when you move your jaw to chew or talk or turn your head you should visit your hearing professional.

Hearing Aid Feedback Managers

Most modern hearing aids have very good feedback managers which ensures that for much of the time whistling is a thing of the past. Both Phonak and Starkey are recognised as offering the very best Feedback Management systems. However, there is always a however right! Sometimes even modern hearing aids might whistle. Before I explain why I want to explain why modern hearing aids whistle less. 

Audeo B-Direct hearing aid

In modern hearing aids the feedback management system, a hearing aid feature that you can read about here, is set during the fitting. The Professional can see the chances of feedback happening and whether or not there is enough amplification before feedback to suit your hearing loss. At that stage, if there isn't enough amplification they will change the fitting in your ear, be it a tip or a mould. 

Once that is done satisfactorily, there should be no possibility of feedback unless something changes. Usually, that means a physical change, which brings me onto. 

Why Do Hearing Aids Squeal?

As I said, there has been some physical change to the setup of the hearing aid or the fit in your ear. Here are some of the reasons for a whistling hearing aid:

  • Not in Properly: Put Your Damn Hearing aid tip in your ear people! More often than not, when I see feedback issues it is because Users are not placing the tip of the hearing aid (on RICs and Thin Tube BTEs) deep enough in their canal. Sometimes, Users aren't getting their moulds into their ear properly when they are wearing BTEs, I have even seen Users put theirs In The Ear hearing aids upside down or in the wrong ears. The fix is simply getting them in the right ears and make sure they are in properly.
  • Bad Mould Fit: Sometimes with moulds the ear has changed over the years which means they just don't fit properly anymore. An ill-fitting ear mould can allow too much sound to leak out making the hearing aids whistle. If this is the case, you need to see your professional to get a new ear mould .
  • A Build Up of Wax: A buildup of earwax in your ear canal means that more of the sound being presented by the hearing aid bounces or leaks out of the ear. The increase in the sound being forced back out of the ear changes the set feedback path, the feature can't cope and you get a high-pitched whistle. The only answer to this one is to get the earwax removed.
  • Turning Up The Volume: This is less of a problem than it once was as feedback management systems are smarter and better than they ever were. However, sometimes turning up the volume on your hearing aids will increase the sound being forced back out of the ear which changes the set feedback path, the feature can't cope and you get a high-pitched whistle. Turn down the volume and talk to your professional about why you needed to turn it up so high.
  • A Cap or a Scarf: Sometimes wearing a cap or covering the hearing aids with a scarf can change the feedback path and make the hearing aids whistle. Giving someone a hug has a similar effect and may result in a short whistle. This can be a little inescapable with some types of fittings such as open fit. However, it should be at a minimum. 
  • A Split in The Tube: Any split in the tube that joins a Behind The Ear hearing aid to the ear will cause whistling. There are two types of tube, a thicker traditional type, and the slim tube. The traditional plastic tube that joins some hearing aids to the ear mould can harden, shrink and split.  The new slim tubes can become worn with use and split. The answer is simply to replace the tube.

That isn't a full list, but it is certainly a list of the usual suspects as they say. On occasion, I have seen hearing aids feedback for no other reason than something has gone wrong with them. That is rare though, more often than not, it is a problem with the physical seal with the ear.

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Posted by

Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling

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Geoffrey (Geoff, anything else makes him nervous) Cooling is an Irish hearing aid blogger and has been involved with the hearing aid industry for over ten years. He has worked in private practice dispensing hearing aids and as a manufacturer's rep. He has written two books and they are both available on Amazon. He loves technology, passing on knowledge and is legendary for many other things, primarily the amount he curses, his dry and mischievous sense of humour and his complete intolerance of people who are full of themselves. Please feel free to connect with him

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