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Problems with hearing aids: Ask our audiologist

Audiologist Abby Davies answers your questions on your hearing aids.

Senior Audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss Abby Davies.Have you got a question? Ask Abby using the form below

More from Abby:

How do hearing aids work?

"Hearing aids make sounds louder and clearer, they don’t give you perfect hearing. They come in all sorts of different sizes and types, but they all work in a similar way. They have a microphone inbuilt in the hearing aid and this picks up the sound and converts it into an electrical signal. The signal is processed electronically and amplified, and then that signal is passed through a receiver and converted back into sounds for you to hear.

"Digital hearing aids are individually programmed to suit your hearing loss. Old analogue hearing aids were suitable for a mild, moderate or severe loss and that was as much choice as you could get, but with digital hearing aids they are individually programmed for each person that comes in."

What different programmes can I get on my hearing aid?

"Digital hearing aids have different settings to be used in different listening situations. They automatically try and reduce background noise and wind noise. They have volume controls that you can use to adjust them, and different programmes for different listening situations. For example, if you listen to a lot of music you can use a music programme.

"It’s important that the audiologist discusses lifestyle and what the person does. It’s not just about the hearing loss, it’s about the impact the hearing loss is having on their life to select the relevant programmes.

"While there are a lot of different programmes, many people don’t want their hearing aids to be that complicated. They just want to put them in their ear and forget about them. You can make it so that the hearing aid has one listening programme that adjusts to different listening situations automatically. You do still need to change programmes if you want to use a loop system."

What is a loop setting?

"You can make use of a hearing loop in theatres, train stations, churches and other public buildings. Loops use the hearing aid in a different way, so you need a different programme for use with loop systems. This programme is accessed by pressing the button or switch on the back of the hearing aid."

Will hearing aids make me look old?

"There is a stigma. A lot of people think hearing aids are for old people and they wouldn’t class themselves as old, or that hearing aids are ugly. However, digital hearing aids are available in lots of different styles, so you should be able to find one that you are happy with.

"You can now get bluetooth hearing aids which means you have wireless connection to your mobile, MP3 player, music systems, TV, everything. You can get really advanced digital hearing aids that are up-to-date with current technology. People wouldn’t even know you were doing it. The days were you have to be connected to everything with wires are gone. There’s an awful lot you can do even with basic digital hearing aids."

Do hearing aids take a lot of getting used to?

"Yes they do. It’s really important to discuss adapting to your hearing aids at the audiology fitting appointment and follow up appointment. People think they can put the hearing aid in and it’s just going to restore the hearing and give you perfect hearing, and it’s not the case at all. It will be very helpful and makes speech clearer and louder, but it takes a long time to get used to processing speech sounds again and hearing background noises and learning to ignore them.

"The brain draws attention to any novel sounds. Someone with normal hearing who’s used to hearing background noise all the time ignores it because it knows it’s not of any interest, but for someone who hasn’t the brain will draw attention to those sounds. Once you get used to processing those sounds again they will get put back in the background but when you first have a hearing aid a lot of people will say, “All I can hear is background noise!” That’s because you’re not used to hearing it. The adjustment period takes quite a long time."

What’s the best way to get used to hearing aids?

"We advise that you get used to the hearing aids very slowly, and that you don’t have them fitted and wear them all the time straightaway. It’s exhausting processing all the sounds to begin with and it can put people off. We usually recommend you just wear them for an hour or so when you first have a hearing aid fitted and then the next day for a little bit longer. For the first week just wear it in the house, gradually building up the amount of time you wear it. Then you can go out to the shops in it, very gradually building up the amount of time you wear it over the first three to four weeks.

"After that try and wear it as much as possible during the day. That’s the other thing that people do, they think, “I’m fine in the house, I don’t have any problem hearing. I’ll just put it on when I go to meet my friends because that’s when I struggle.” Of course when they go to meet their friends they’re in a noisier environment where they haven’t been wearing their hearing aid, and when they put it in all they’re picking up is background noise."

Are hearing aids always the answer?

"If you don’t want to wear a hearing aid there’s a lot of other technologies you can use that are helpful – things like telephone amplifiers, assistive listening devices, and, vibrating alarm clocks. Some people feel the only thing they need help with is the television, and the only thing that causes any problem in their life is constantly being told to turn the television down. You can get a TV listener, put your headphones in and put the television at a volume that’s comfortable to you and that can make a big difference to your life. It’s really about personal choice.

"The only issue with this listening equipment is that you have to take everything with you. A hearing aid’s tiny and it’s working all the time to improve sound quality and volume for you."

What other services might help?

"Lipreading classes and support groups can be really useful and you can get information about these through your audiology service. Hearing therapy can be really helpful and give you communication tips. Not just for people with hearing loss, but for their family and friends, so if hearing aids aren’t the route you want to go down getting some information about that kind of thing can be really helpful as well."

What are common problems with a hearing aid that you can fix yourself?

"One of the most common problems is blocked tubing. This tubing connects the hearing aid and the mould. If it gets blocked with wax or condensation (droplets of water) sound can’t get through. You can gently pull the hearing aid off the top of the tubing and wash the mould and the tubing in warm soapy water, run hot water through the tube and that will push out all the wax. The hearing aid (the bit that goes over the back of the ear) that can’t get wet, but you can wash the tubing and the ear mould itself. That should be done once a week, or any time you realise there’s a blockage. You need to make sure it’s completely dry before you put the hearing aid back on top of the tubing. If you notice there’s still any water in the tubing give it a good flick to get rid of it. You can leave it to dry overnight before attaching the hearing aid.

"Other problems you can sort out at home are: Batteries running out, using the wrong kind of battery by mistake, or when the volume’s pushed down really low so it’s not picking up the sound. It does quite often happen that people will have their hearing aid on the telecoil setting without realising. You can check you’re on your listening programme by switching the hearing aid off and switching it back on again."

When will you need to go back to your audiologist?

"You can go back you audiology department for any repairs or to have your hearing aid checked. Anything to do with the sound of the hearing aid, or if you feel your hearing has changed, if there’s no sound coming out of the hearing aid at all, or if you drop it in water you’ll need to go back to your audiology department to get that fixed."

Why is my hearing aid whistling?

"You can get whistling and squeaking from your hearing aid if the ear mould isn’t in properly. The mould needs to be sitting in the ear snugly to stop any sound escaping through it – that’s what causes the whistling. If the ear mould is in properly and the hearing aid is still whistling there could be wax in your ear – you need to have this checked by your GP. Alternatively the ear mould may have got a bit loose and you need a new one, or you might need new tubing because it’s got hard and shrunk. For these you will either need to go back to your audiologist, or visit one of our Hear To Help projects."

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