Man with hands on his ears because of hissing and buzzing hearing aids.

 

You started wearing hearing aids because you want to improve your ability to hear sounds (don’t worry, we’ll thank Captain Obvious later). But sometimes, hearing aids themselves generate buzzing or whistling sounds. This can range from annoying–when it’s quick and low-volume–to downright painful if the noises are loud or sustained.

Assuming you’ve checked the batteries and they’re fine, you’re probably hearing feedback. Yes, just like a grade school principal awkwardly stepping up to the microphone to make an announcement–and making everyone wince as the sound is accidentally re-amplified. Sound is rebounding within your ear and going through your hearing aid twice. Here are four of the most common causes of feedback–and how to fix each one.

Your Hearing Aid Was Touched or Bumped

If you get a quick hit of feedback, the most likely culprit is contact. Maybe you put your hand or phone to your ear, but you gave someone a hug. (We know, you were trying to be nice!) Hats, scarves, and other headgear can also interfere by placing obstacles in the paths sound waves are traveling to get to your ear. If you’re getting more than a quick blip of feedback, but you’ve also decided to accessorize today, try taking off your hat or scarf to see whether the feedback disappears.

You’ve Got the Volume Too High

Feel like you need to turn your hearing aids all the way up to hear properly? Like a heavy metal band taking the volume all the way to eleven, you’re more likely to hear feedback. If you’re in a situation where you temporarily need to turn up the volume, that’s understandable (though again, you’re increasing the risk of hearing whistling or buzzing). But if you always (or almost always) have your hearing aids turned all the way up, it may be time to visit a hearing specialist. You may need to have your hearing rechecked; if your hearing hasn’t changed, a hearing specialist can figure out whether there’s a problem with your hearing aids or if you need new ones.

Your Ears Are Dirty

We know–it always seems to come back to earwax, doesn’t it? But wax that’s built up in your ears can prevent sounds from getting to your hearing aids, and if it’s forcing sound back out–or trapping sound in–you’re going to hear buzzing or whistling sounds. One way to check whether this might be the issue is to take out your hearing aids, and see whether they appear especially grimy and/or if wax has gotten into any part of the hearing aids.

Your Hearing Aids Don’t Fit

Hearing aids are made to conform to your ears, but when they don’t, sounds can bounce around and cause feedback. A really simple reason you might not have the right fit is that you didn’t properly insert your hearing aids. Especially when you’re new to hearing aids and getting used to wearing them, you may be inclined to make them feel more “comfortable”–but that often means they’re too loose. Take them out and reinsert them, making sure they’re seated snugly inside your ear.

Not a placement problem? There are a couple of other common causes of fit issues. If you’ve experienced significant weight loss or gain, it could impact how your hearing aids fit–though your ears are the same size, changes in skin laxity (for example) can affect hearing aids’ placement. Had your hearing aids a long time? You may be due for replacements, or at least replacement parts. If pieces of your hearing aid shrink, crack or harden, it can alter the fit and result in feedback.

Occasional feedback–like from a hug or a hat–is inevitable. But if your hearing aids are buzzing or whistling more often than not, make an appointment to see a hearing specialist. After all, your hearing aids are there to help you experience the sounds you want to hear!

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