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Some years ago one of the biggest things that irritating people about their hearing aids was feedback. Older hearing aids would often make a high pitched scream, like a whistle. This would most commonly occur when the person was close to a surface or another person, but sometimes it would happen randomly! Luckily with the more modern hearing aids we deal with today, whistling hearing aids can be a thing of the past. What can you do if your hearing aid is whisting? Here are some tips and tricks.

Why do hearing aids whistle?

That whistling sound that hearing aids make is called feedback. Feedback can occur with any sound system where there is a microphone and a speaker in close proximity to one another. With the tiny size of hearing aids, it’s no wonder feedback has traditionally been a problem! Feedback occurs when the sound transmitted from the speaker is picked up by the unit’s own microphone and ‘re-amplified’. This causes a high pitched whistling or squeaking sound, which is sometimes audible to the user or to those around them. It’s normal for hearing aids to whistle in your hand or while you are inserting them. Sometimes you can also elicit feedback by cupping your hand over your ear- this is also normal and a way that some people check if their aids are working. However, if hearing aids whistle on their own, when you are chewing or speaking or when you are in the car or other enclosed space, something may be wrong.

Check the fit

Most of the time when a modern hearing aid is whistling, it has something to do with the fit of the aid. If the aid is not properly inserted, too much sound may be able to leak out of the ear. This sound will be picked up by the hearing aid’s own microphone and cause feedback. Luckily, modern hearing aids contain advanced algorithms that aim to suppress feedback before it becomes a problem, but this assumes that the hearing aid is positioned correctly. Make sure that the aid is in all the way and is securely in place.

Check your ear

A common cause of whistling hearing aids is an obstruction in the ear canal. If the ear is blocked up with wax and the sound can’t get to the ear drum, it will ‘bounce’ out and cause feedback. If your hearing aid has only recently started whistling, have your ears checked to see if you need to have wax removed from the ear. Click here to read about how to have earwax removed safely.

Speak to your audiologist

If your hearing aids are inserted well, and your ears are clear, the next step would be to speak to your hearing healthcare professional. It’s possible that your dome or mould may not be fitting you well, and you may need a different shape or size. Do not attempt to change this on your own, as changes to the fitting may alter the acoustics and therefore the required settings in the instruments. Your audiologist may also be able to increase the strength of your feedback management system. Sometimes feedback can occur if the instrument is ‘maxed out’. If this is the case, your audiologist will be able to guide you on the best way forward.

Avoid the whistling hearing aids trigger

You may find that feedback starts when you wear a hat or scarf. This is quite common, as a hat might cause a closed area around the aid and direct the sound back to it’s own microphone! Unfortunately if you are sure that the aid fits well, that your ears are clear, and that there is nothing more that your audiologist can do without reducing your gain, the only option is to avoid it. Try different styles of hats that are not as snug or have a different brim.

Usually feedback from a hearing aid is quite normal. However, if you find that your whistling hearing aids are bothersome to you or those around you, speak to your audiologist about whether anything can be done. For more information, contact us or comment below with your experiences.