Those that have had experience with older family friends or grandparents with hearing loss and hearing aids may be familiar with the unpleasant squealing noise (hearing aid feedback) that hearing aids can make. Squealing hearing aids can be embarrassing for those with hearing aids if they are aware of the hearing aid feedback. Hearing aid feedback may be equally embarrassing if the people wearing the hearing aids are unaware of the feedback despite feedback being audible to others. People with significant hearing loss may fail to hear the feedback noise emanating from their hearing aids. What is hearing aid feedback? When might hearing aids produce feedback? Why do hearing aids produce feedback and how can hearing aid feedback be avoided? Has technology advanced sufficiently to address the problem of hearing aid feedback? Or is it fair to predict the feedback from today’s hearing aids based on past experiences with older generations of hearing aids? Which hearing aids have access to the technology that suppresses hearing aid feedback? These are questions we will address.
What is hearing aid feedback?
The feedback or squealing sound that hearing aids can make, is as a result of a sound loop. The sound which the hearing aid speaker releases into the ear is recycled back into the hearing aid via the hearing aid microphone and passes through the amplification process again and again in a loop generating a whistle or squeal.
Why do hearing aids produce feedback and how can hearing aid feedback be avoided by people with hearing loss?
- Hearing aid feedback may be heard if an object is too close to the hearing aid microphone. Examples of potential “objects” include people leaning in for hugs, hats and pillows. Feedback can be avoided by increasing the distance between the hearing aid and the person coming in for the hug or other encroaching object.
- There may also be feedback if the hearing aid is not inserted into the ear correctly and firmly enough or is not a good fit (This will allow sound to escape from the ear of our friend or relative with hearing loss back to the microphone producing a feedback loop). Feedback can be avoided by ensuring that the hearing aid is correctly fitted in the ear and is a good fit. A tighter fit can be achieved by increasing the length of the earpiece that goes into the ear and by using a softer material for the earpiece. Bear in mind that these adjustments may make insertion of the hearing aid(s) more challenging.
- If there is a big ball of earwax in the ear in front of the hearing-aid-speaker, the wax can reflect the sound back out of the ear toward the microphone into the sound loop that generates the feedback. Feedback can be avoided by ensuring that the person with hearing loss keeps their ear canals clear of earwax.
- There may also be feedback if the earpiece of the hearing aid is inappropriate given the loudness of the sound the hearing aid produces. The louder the sound, the greater the risk that enough sound will escape to form a feedback loop. The greater one’s hearing loss the more likely it is that there will be feedback. Your hearing care provider is responsible for providing the most suitable fit in the ear to prevent sound leakage that can cause feedback. This is determined by how snugly the earpiece fits in the ear and by the size of its ventilation “shaft”. It can occasionally happen that a hearing loss is so significant that the amplification required is so great that there is still some feedback even when the earpiece is an excellent fit and the ventilation “shaft” is absent. However, this will not be a common problem for all people with hearing loss.
Technological advances that address the problem of hearing aid feedback for those with hearing loss.
Modern hearing aid software provides multiple avenues of support to eliminate hearing aid feedback for people with hearing loss.
- Hearing aids possess automatic feedback cancellation technology which constantly scans for hearing aid feedback and cancels it out.
- Hearing aids also possess frequency lowering technology. This technology works by converting a high squeaky sound to a lower pitched sound. This is helpful when individuals with hearing loss have significant hearing loss in the highest pitches (for high squeaky sounds) and require significant amplification of those high pitches. By converting very high-pitched sounds to lower pitches where individuals with hearing loss may have better hearing, the need for amplification is reduced. Lowering amplification lowers the risk of hearing aid feedback.
- Your hearing care professional can also run a feedback manager which measures the hearing aid’s response to sounds and reduces hearing aid amplification in the pitches that cause hearing aid feedback.
Which hearing aids suppress hearing aid feedback for people with hearing loss?
People with hearing loss that have investigated the potential financial cost of acquiring hearing aids would be aware that different levels of hearing aid technology are available at different prices. Simple hearing aids are more affordable than more sophisticated hearing aids. The question arises as to whether less sophisticated, lower-cost hearing aids still support individuals with hearing loss by providing feedback suppression technology. Fortunately, there is consensus amongst hearing aid manufacturers that hearing aid feedback is a problem that no one with hearing loss should have to face. Hearing aid feedback suppression technology is generally available across the board across all hearing aid levels regardless of the cost of the hearing aids.
Knowing what hearing aid feedback is and when and why hearing aids produce feedback is helpful. Hearing aid feedback can be avoided using practical strategies and relying on technological advances in hearing aid feedback suppression software. Technological advances in modern hearing aids are so effective, that hearing aid feedback will be a problem very rarely encountered by folks with hearing loss. This is true regardless of the cost of hearing aids. Only those with very significant hearing losses requiring significant amplification can expect to continue experiencing feedback from their hearing aids. Most of us that carry unpleasant childhood memories of grandparents’ hearing aids squealing can rest assured that those embarrassing experiences will remain in the past. Make sure to book a hearing test at Attune Hearing to get your hearing evaluated. The qualified Audiologistsare able to help you manage your hearing loss and find solutions, like hearing aids, that will enable you to enjoy life and hear every sound.