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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

Why Do My Hearing Aids Whistle?

Updated: 6 days ago


Man blowing a whistle, symbolic of hearing aid whistling.

Have you ever been in an auditorium, where someone about to give a speech gets too close to the microphone, causing an ear-piercing squeal? A very similar thing can happen with hearing aids.  Because hearing aids use a microphone, if something covers the hearing aid or gets very close to it, it is possible that you may hear a high-pitched squeal or whistle.  This is what we refer to in audiology as “feedback”, and for the purposes of this article, I’ll use this term interchangeably with “whistling”. 


Feedback occurs when the sound from the hearing aid gets reamplified again by the hearing aid itself.  This feedback becomes problematic when it happens regularly, with no obvious cause (for example, if it only happens when cupping your hand over the hearing aid, this would be expected).  Excessive hearing aid whistling is probably one of the most common problems to occur for a hearing aid wearer.  The whistling may be from either one or both hearing aids, and it might be either constant or intermittent.  Sometimes the hearing aid wearer is unable to hear the whistle, but their friends or family members can hear it, and bring it to their attention.


Modern hearing aids have become much less likely to whistle than their older counterparts, but it is still indeed very possible to experience a problematic level of hearing aid feedback.  I will therefore discuss some of the most likely culprits of this problem, and what can be done to help:

 

a)      Loose Hearing Aid Fit

 

If a hearing aid is fitting too loosely in the ear, this can cause the hearing aid to whistle.  This is because the sound from the hearing aid will leak out of the ear canal, and then get reamplified.   A few different things can be done that can help.  If using a receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid, then often adjusting the length of the receiver wire, or the size of the dome that fits into the ear (or a combination of both) can allow for a more secure fit and reduce the feedback.  If you have an in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid, or use a custom mould fitted onto your RIC hearing aid, then this may need to be remade by the hearing aid manufacturer for a more secure fit.

 

b)      Hearing Aid Not Inserted Properly

 

If the hearing aids have not been inserted properly into the ears, this will essentially create the “loose fit” problem described above.  A common problem is that a hearing aid wearer will not push the wire of their RIC style hearing aid fully into the ear, or they will put their ITE style hearing aid in their ear with an incorrect orientation.  Not only will this affect the overall sound quality of the hearing aids, but it is also likely to cause the hearing aids to whistle excessively due to the sound leaking out, and then being reamplified.  If this is the case, your audiologist can show you again how to put your hearing aid on properly, and practice this with you.  If you find your hearing aids to be uncomfortable when they are inserted properly, then some of the sizing may need to be altered. 

 

c)      Excessive Earwax

 

If you have a lot of earwax in your ears, this can cause the sound from the hearing aid to bounce off the wax, and then get reamplified, causing a whistle.  It is normal and healthy to have earwax in the ears, but if wax begins to build up to the point where it blocks the ear canals, then it will need to be removed.  Most private audiologists offer earwax removal services. 

 

d)      Hearing Aids Are Too “Open”

 

Hearing aids can be fitted with a large range of options for what physically fits inside the ear.  This can include things like a custom fitted ear mould, or a small rubbery “dome”.  Sometimes this fitting of the hearing aid may leave the ear canal too “open”, causing the sound to leak out, which creates the whistle.  This is again, like the loose fit problem described above.  However, in this case, the hearing aid may be fitting securely in the ear, but it is the physical attachment of the hearing aid that is allowing the sound to leak.  This usually becomes an issue when a patient has a more severe hearing loss, and the level of sound required for the patient is higher than what the physical fittings of the hearing aid can handle.  The solution for this would be to change to a more “closed” fitting—either a different dome style, or perhaps using a custom fitted ear mould.   

 

e)      Hearing Aids Have Not Been Adjusted Properly

 

Sometimes the actual hearing aid settings may not be quite right for your degree of hearing loss, and it is possible the hearing aids are too loud for what you require.  This can potentially cause hearing aid whistling, as the hearing aids are overamplifying sounds.  There are other settings as well that your audiologist can control, and if not set properly, this may lead the hearing aids to whistle.  Sometimes a quick, easy test needs to be completed on your hearing aids, which allows the audiologist to see what frequencies are causing the whistling, and then the level of amplification of these frequencies can be reduced.  It is also possible that the model of hearing aid that you have may not be quite powerful enough for your hearing loss, meaning that the hearing aid can’t handle the amount of amplification you require, thus leading to whistling.

 

 

f)        Something Is Covering the Hearing Aids

 

As mentioned in the introduction to this article, it can be normal when something covers the hearing aid, to notice whistling.  This is because the sound from the hearing aid bounces off whatever it is being covered by, and then gets reamplified.  If you only notice the whistle when cupping your hands over the hearing aids, then this would be expected, and is nothing to be concerned by.  Similarly, it’s possible that wearing a hat that fits directly over your hearing aids may cause them to whistle.  If you have taken your hearing aids off and have left them on a table or in their case, without turning the hearing aids off, they may start whistling as well. 

 

Conclusion

 

This article discussed some of the most common causes of problematic hearing aid whistling, or “feedback”.  My advice would always be to first double check that the hearing aids have been inserted into your ears properly, and seem to be fitting securely.  If you are confident that they are being worn properly and are still noticing whistling, it would be worth contacting your audiologist.  They can check your ears for wax and ensure the overall fit of the hearing aid looks secure.  They also can make any possibly required adjustments to the hearing aids, whether that be to the hearing aid settings, or to the physical fitting of the hearing aids.  Hearing aid whistling is a common problem, but often, with just a bit of troubleshooting, it can easily be solved. 


If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.


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