Are you wearing a hearing aid for the first time? You may have been looking forward to engaging in conversations, and not having to ask others to repeat themselves.
Instead, getting used to hearing aids can be a frustrating experience. You may find sounds to be too loud or tinny-sounding. You may find amplified background sounds drown out human speech, or you may also notice your voice echoes.
Don’t despair. You will be able to hear more clearly and naturally over time. Your brain will adjust to your hearing aids, and you should notice a big improvement after the first month.
Tips for Getting Used to Hearing Aids
Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds. They’re a good solution for people with hearing loss due to damaged sensory receptors, or hair cells, in the inner ear. This sensory damage means that well-fit hearing aids will help you, but they do not restore normal hearing.
Even with hearing aids, you may still have some hearing challenges, especially in complex listening situations like very noisy environments. This is especially true if you have lost the ability to tell the difference between certain consonant sounds due to sensory damage, even when amplified.
It’s also true if your hearing loss is severe to profound. If you have severe to profound hearing loss and you are not receiving benefit from hearing aids, you may be a cochlear implant candidate. This technology bypasses the damaged sensory system to support hearing.
There are things you can do to get used to the newly amplified sound that your hearing aids are providing. Here’s how to get started.
Wear your hearing aids as much as possible
We know that people who wear well-fit hearing aids full time (all their waking hours) adjust to hearing aids faster and ultimately get more benefit from the hearing aids than people who wear them part time. You want to make sure you are adjusting to well-fit hearing aids which means they have been individually selected and fit considering your lifestyle, your ear canal size/shape, and your hearing. The audiologist verifies that the hearing aid is set correctly in terms of amplification by putting a microphone in your ear canal and measuring the output of the hearing aid. The audiologist uses this information to tune the hearing aid to be correct for the individual person. If this is how your hearing aids were fit, now it is time for your brain to adapt/adjust to the new sounds that have been returned to you.
Ideally, you should wear your hearing aid (or aids) all day, from the time you wake up until when you go to bed. This way, your brain will adapt faster to the new audio inputs. (If you only wear them sometimes, your brain won’t “rewire” as fast — or as well.) Just remember to take them out if you are getting wet (swimming, bathing, etc.)
Some people find they can’t wear their hearing aids all day at first, because they’re hearing too much background noise, or the sound is too loud. In this case, focus on increasing the amount of time you use your hearing aid each day.
Your audiologist also may have specific advice, depending on your level of hearing loss. Your audiologist may recommend a certain number of hours each day — and provide guidance on how quickly to increase use.
Be kind to yourself, this is a big change. Most people wait about seven years from when they notice they have hearing loss until they pursue hearing aids. This means your brain has adapted to listening through your hearing loss (like a filter), not it has to readjust to perceiving all of these needed sounds. You also are adjusting to how hearing aids feel and your own voice is going to sound different in the beginning.
Avoid overly noisy environments
For the first few days, it’s best to avoid loud places, like shopping malls or busy restaurants. With your new hearing aid, you’ll be hearing much more background noise than you’re used to.
Over time, you’ll learn to tune out background noise so it won’t be so overwhelming. But you want to ease in to sound-rich environments.
Focus on different sounds
Try to pay attention to different sounds. Focus only on the sound of the dishwasher running, cars going by, or birds chirping, for example. This will help your brain better identify different sounds.
Listen to your own voice
Do you find your own voice echoes or sounds strangely muffled? That’s a very normal sensation when you’re getting used to hearing aids.
If you find the sound of your voice distracting in conversation, practice listening to yourself at home alone. Read a book, magazine or even text messages out loud. If this doesn’t change over time, there are a number of things the audiologist can do to help alleviate any poor sound quality.
Connect words with sounds
You’ll follow conversations better if your brain gets faster at linking sounds with words. To help this process, try watching TV with captions or read lyrics as you listen to the song. You could also listen to an audiobook as you follow along on the physical version.
Try auditory rehabilitation
The longer you’ve gone with hearing loss and without hearing aids, the more your brain gets accustomed to hearing within a reduced frequency range. If you’re finding it difficult to adjust to your hearing aids, audio rehabilitation may help.
There are free as well as paid programs online. These programs play different voices and letter sounds, with varying background noise. As you improve, the programs gradually increase the difficulty. Your audiologist may offer programs in person or can recommend an online program that might work well for you.
For example, you might click on a photo or word to show what you heard. The instant feedback on whether you’re right or wrong helps to train your brain.
The Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore
If your hearing aids are causing whistling or pain in your ear, contact your audiologist right away.
Whistling (feedback) is caused when amplified sound in your ear canal (produced by the hearing aid) leaks out of the ear canal and is picked up by the hearing aid microphone. Make sure your hearing aid is placed in the ear correctly, but if the whistling persists, see your audiologist.
Sound can be pushed out of your ear and cause whistling if too much ear wax has built up in your ear canal. Your audiologist can determine why you’re hearing whistling and work with you to resolve the issue.
Sounds may be loud, perhaps annoyingly so, as you hear background sounds you weren’t used to hearing before. If your hearing aids were fit appropriately by the audiologist measuring the output of your hearing aid with a microphone in your ear canal, they have set the hearing aid so it cannot be so loud it will damage your hearing. You shouldn’t experience pain listening to sounds. If you do, take out your hearing aids, and call your audiologist for help.
If your hearing doesn’t improve
You should have a follow up appointment booked with your audiologist, usually a few weeks after you take your hearing aids home. But if don’t notice much improvement after the first week, you may want to push this up. Or if you experience difficulty after your follow-up, let your audiologist know, so they can help.
While you’re waiting for your next appointment, pay attention to the specific struggles you’re having. Write down what communication and listening situations aren’t going well for you, which sounds are too loud or overwhelming, and which sounds you hear in an unnatural way.
Keep in mind that the audiologist can fine tune your devices based on your input. But the audiologist doesn’t want to make any changes until you’ve given your brain a chance to adjust to the ideal setting (programmed by the audiologist at the fitting). Everyone is different and has different listening preferences so let the audiologist know how things are going.
Many individuals struggle in noisy situations and the audiologist can provide you with communication strategies that may help you. If you need to hear one individual in larger, noisy settings (e.g., lecture, meetings), a remote microphone may help. This is a microphone that you can place right by the sound you want to hear and it wirelessly transmits sound to your hearing aids.
Bottom Line: Hearing Requires Practice
It may take a month before you’re fully used to your hearing aids, but you should see at least some improvement after the first week.
Remember, hearing is a skill; it isn’t automatic. With hearing aids, you have to fine tune this skill as you adjust to new and different sounds.
Don’t expect a quick fix but keep practicing. When you look back, you’ll realize how much your hearing and quality of life has improved.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Hearing aids. Link
Hearing Loss Association of America. Hearing aids. Link
Hearing Loss Association of America. Auditory Training Programs. Link
Nissa Simon. Getting used to hearing aids. American Association of Retired Persons. Link
National Institute on deafness and other communication disorders. Hearing aids. Link
Starkey Hearing. Tips for getting used to wearing new hearing aids. Hearing Industries Association. Link
Sally Wadyka. Getting used to hearing aids. Consumer Reports. Link
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