My hearing aids hurt: everything is too loud and distorted

Should my own voice sound distorted and echo inside my head?

To some extent, yes. One's own voice does sound strange while wearing hearing aids. It should, though, be entirely bearable and you should get used to it quickly.

However, some of my hearing aids have made my own voice echo and rattle round my head to such an extent that it was impossible to have a normal conversation. The effect is an example of what is known as occlusion and there is a separate page on occlusion generally.

Vents for hearing aids

The answer to one's own voice echoing inside one's head is - in my case, at least - a vent in the earpiece, ie an tube-like opening between the outside world and the inner part of the earpiece. A consultant told me this years ago, but it was really brought home to me recently as I tore off hearing aids with new earpieces, saying they were impossible. The audiologist looked at them and said, "I asked for vents, but they haven't given them to you". She took the earpieces away and drilled vents herself, after which the echoing stopped - or at least became acceptable.

She also ran some special software to reduce the echoing, but I couldn't do a comparison to see how useful if was.

How loudly should a hearing aid amplify?

I am very pleased with my latest NHS* hearing aids, having had hopeless results with private suppliers and the older NHS versions. These latest ones sound - or appear to sound - only slightly louder than what I hear without them, except that suddenly, with them, people seem to be speaking English again, rather than some unintelligible foreign language. What this actually means of course is that the hearing aids are raising the volume of just those frequencies I need and not, or only a very little, any of the others. Of course different people have different hearing losses, and I can't speak for everyone. However, it is probably true to say that hearing aids shouldn't make anything seem intrusively loud. If they do and if simply turning them down a notch doesn't work then, they need to be reprogrammed according to a new hearing test.

When I first received my latest hearing aids, after a few days I went for a walk while wearing them - and I announced to my companion, "I do wish those birds would shut up!". He laughed and replied, "Birds song is a fact of life in the country. Most people like it!". Now that the aids are turned down, the bird song no longer annoys me, although I can still hear it. (The aids were turned down at their start-up level by an audiologist. I could of course have just turned the aids down myself each time I wore them, but I had to go back to Audiology anyway.)

Should a hearing aid distort sound or make it painful?

Of course, ideally, a hearing aid should not distort sound or make it painful - and I suspect that it probably does neither for most people. I haven't quite got there yet, and I suspect that with my hearing recruitment I probably never will, because my pain threshold is so close to my optimum hearing level. Whatever, every effort should be made to ensure that hearing aids neither distort nor sound painful. My experience of NHS audiologists is that they are more than willing to make adjustments to help. Such adjustments are relatively quick and easy for them, but can make an enormous difference to a hearing aid wearer.

If a hearing aid does distort or make sound painful and turning it up or down doesn't help, it probably means that the amplifications are not matched to the needs at that pitch. This again, probably stems from the hearing test from which the aids were programmed. I can say this with some experience because I have had two recent NHS hearing tests - albeit for different purposes - and have tried my hearing aids programmed for each of them. One is what I have settled for now, and the other was so disastrous that it had me in tears. (Don't think, by the way, that I must be a particularly weepy person. I was warned, years ago when I had my ear operation, that unpleasant sounds in less-than-perfect ears, do seem to turn on the water works.)

None of my hearing tests have ever been ideal - but this is probably particular to me, and there is no reason why yours should not be fine. So if you can't get on with your hearing aid, the message is, "Do go back to the supplier".


* The NHS is the UK's National Health Service which is free at the point of delivery.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.