A frequent question asked by patients being fitted for hearing aids concerns whether the hearing aids which are designed to help them hear weak sounds will make the loud noises too loud for their ears. Thankfully there is a comforting answer to this question.
Put simply, so long as they are properly fitted and adjusted modern hearing aids are designed so that they won’t take already loud sounds and make them even louder, potentially harming the wearer’s ears. We can’t overemphasize how critical the phrase in bold is; this is the reason you should have professional help with choosing and fitting your hearing aids.
A longer answer to the same question requires an explanation of hearing aids themselves, and the way that they work. Digital hearing aids receive sounds through their microphones and turn them into binary information that can then be processed by the hearing aid’s microchip before it is sent to the earphones. These hearing aids are programmable, which means that not only can the maximum volume permitted be adjusted to suit your individual tastes, the actual qualities of the sounds can also be adjusted. If you have primarily high-frequency hearing loss, for example, we might program the hearing aid to amplify those sounds while reducing the volume of lower-frequency sounds. On the other hand, if you suffer from low-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid settings would be reversed.
The newest digital hearing aids can also filter sounds to make them easier for you to understand. For example, if foreground voices are obscured by background noise, the hearing aid can detect the noise and suppress it or lower its volume, amplifying only the voices. If volume levels change – for example if music starts at a low volume but then becomes too loud – the hearing aid can dynamically compensate for it. Directional microphones also allow the hearing aid wearer to hear faint sounds coming from the direction they are facing, while suppressing noisier sounds coming from behind or to either side.
One thing that hearing aids do not do with regard to loud sounds is protect your ears from them the way that ear plugs would. Loud sounds like chainsaws or overly amplified rock concerts, will therefore still be able to cause noise-induced hearing loss. However, the most common sounds you encounter should be handled by your properly fitted and programmed hearing aids.