Definition & Overview

People suffering from hearing loss caused by genetics, injury, senility, disease or disorders are often prescribed a hearing aid to help them recapture sound. With the hearing aid, the sound is amplified and delivered directly to the ear enabling the wearer to listen, and in turn, be able to reconnect with their daily lives. A hearing aid uses a microphone that captures the sound from the external environment. Voices, music, background noises, and any other sound are received by the microphone in the form of sound waves. These sound waves will then be processed and amplified (made stronger) depending on the type of hearing aid that is worn. The decoded, amplified signal will be transmitted to the speaker in the form of sound vibrations that are processed by the auditory hair cells. The hair cells in the ear are not part of the hearing aid but they relay the signals from the hearing aid to the brain. The damage to the hair cells usually indicates the severity of the hearing loss and dictates the amplification needed for the hearing aid to fully relay the signals to the brain.

Cause of Condition

The hearing aid, as much as it is an essential tool, can experience problems because most of the time, some of its parts are malfunctioning. At other times, external factors affect its performance. Below are the possible causes of these conditions:
* Accumulation of earwax – This is one of the common problems with hearing aids. Since they are regularly worn, there is the risk that earwax can build up and block the signals from the device. This often results in weak or distorted sounds. * Battery problems – Like any mechanical, battery-operated tool, once the battery becomes weak, the device also suffers. A weak or worn-out battery affects the quality of the sound. The hearing aid can also appear weak or dead if the battery is not properly inserted.
* Hearing aid is damaged or is malfunctioning

Key Symptoms

Below are the symptoms that patients experience when there are problems with their hearing aids: * There is a whistling or howling sound when inserted – A whistling or howling sound can be irritating as the wearer has to exert more energy into trying to focus on the important sounds. This is usually caused by an earwax build-up, high volume setting, the incorrect positioning of the hearing aid, or a weak battery. * The hearing aid has no sound – In this case, the usual causes are dead batteries, the hearing aid is not turned on, the volume is at the lowest level, the microphone or the sound outlet is clogged or the hearing aid is totally damaged.
* The sound is distorted – The sound may appear to be distorted when it is muffled, unclear or fragmented much like a weak radio signal that produces static-like reception. Weak batteries are usually the cause or it could be that the speaker is defective.
* The sound is weak or decreased in volume – There may be occasions when the hearing aid is not delivering the right amplification and the user is left with weak signals. It makes hearing difficult, as if the user does not have a hearing aid at all. The reason may be due to the earwax clogging the device, the volume level is set to low, the batteries are weak or the device is damaged.

Who to See & Types of Treatments Available

Ordinarily, the most common hearing aid-related problems can be solved by the wearer upon further examination of the device and its parts. For instance, weak or dead batteries may easily be replaced with new ones while making sure that they are properly inserted. An earwax build-up may be avoided if the wearer’s ears and hearing aids are regularly cleaned. However, if the problem persists, a trip to the doctor may be necessary so that the ear canal can be checked.

References: * Dugan MB. Living with Hearing Loss. Gallaudet University Press, Washington, DC. March 2003. * Stach BA, Ramachandran V. Hearing aid amplification. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund LJ, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2015:chap 16

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