Why Do Hearing Aids Whistle?

Closeup of a whistle

You've just been fitted for your brand new pair of hearing aids and you get a phone call from your Audiologist letting you know they've arrived. You take a trip down to her office and she shows you how to put them in, how to clean them and so on. Everything is great, except one problem.

No matter where you go you keep hearing this whistling sound in your hearing aid. Why is your hearing aid whistling?

The whistling that occurs in hearing aids is called feedback. What happens is, the sound coming out of the hearing aid loops back around and goes back into the microphone of the hearing aid. You may have noticed feedback from a speaker sound system when the person holding the microphone gets too close to the speaker. It is the same idea with hearing aids.

Feedback in hearing aids can be annoying, but if you understand the causes of feedback, there are ways to avoid it.

A poor fitting hearing aid

If your hearing aid or connected earmold does not fit in your ear properly then the sound will leak out of the ear and back into the microphone of the hearing aid. In this case you may hear an intermittent or constant whistling in the hearing aid.

You may notice more feedback if you turn the volume of the aid louder.

Making sure your hearing aid fits properly is the responsibility of your hearing healthcare professional that is fitting your hearing aids. If feedback is occurring then a remake of the hearing aid may be necessary.

Wax in your ears

If your ears are full of wax and you try to put hearing aids on top of the wax, you will get feedback. This is because the amplified sound coming out of the hearing aid has nowhere to go when it hits the wax, so it bounces back out of the ear and into the hearing aid microphone.

It is important to keep your ears clean when wearing hearing aids. Your hearing healthcare professional should check your ears when you come in for appointments and clean your ears as needed.

And no, using Q-tips does not count as cleaning your ears…

The hearing aid microphone is covered

If you hold your hand right over the microphone of the hearing aid, or another objects gets in contact with the microphone, then you will get feedback. This should be minimal and will stop as soon as the object is removed from next to the hearing aid.

Some hearing aids may be more sensitive to whistling depending on how much amplification it has. In the past, feedback would occur when holding the phone to the hearing aid, but with the more advanced digital hearing aids this is no longer the case.

As hearing aid technology improves over the years, certain inconvenient problems such as feedback are being resolved. Some of the leading hearing aid manufacturers have developed advanced anti-feedback systems in their hearing aids to reduce the feedback issue. However, feedback may still occur if one of the above three problems are occurring.

No hearing aid will be perfect. There's always a small chance that whistling may occur no matter what. But if you take the time to follow the three steps above and make sure to consult with your Audiologist then in all likelihood you'll be able to eliminate any whistling in your hearing aids.

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