Realistic Expectations of a Hearing Aid : An Aid, Not A Cure

Realistic Expectations of a Hearing Aid : An Aid, Not A Cure

Often it seems, that our fast paced world demands as close to perfection as possible in ourselves and those around us. A personal disability, such as hearing loss, is anything but perfect even when a hearing aid is worn. Through the advancements in medicine and technology, society expects a “quick fix” – got a headache, take a pill; poor eyesight can be easily corrected with laser surgery, cataract removal or glasses. Hearing impairment is not so easily and successfully corrected. Unfortunately, hearing aids are not a “quick fix” and will not restore your hearing to normal. Hearing aids will improve hearing but they are just an aid and need help from you to maximize their benefits.

Hearing loss results from damage to the ear, the auditory nerve that takes the message to the brain, and/or auditory centres in the brain which interpret what has been heard. A hearing aid makes sounds louder but does not correct the physical damage in the auditory system. For example, if the auditory nerve is damaged and speech sounds are therefore not able to travel from the ear, through this nerve to the brain, the amplified speech sounds will be distorted causing poor word discrimination. Word discrimination ability or word understanding is one of the initial tests done by the audiologist when testing hearing to determine if a person is a good candidate for a hearing aid. If words are not understood, even when loud enough, a hearing aid may only provide limited improvement.

There are many factors that effect how well a person will adjust to and benefit from a hearing aid including the type and severity of the hearing loss, the age of the person at the time of the hearing loss and the age at which a hearing aid is acquired (the younger the wearer, the better ability to adapt to a hearing aid), and motivation and physical and mental ability. A realistic expectation of the benefits of wearing a hearing aid greatly increase hearing aid satisfaction and promote maximum hearing aid benefit.

The following are realistic expectations of the benefits of wearing a hearing aid:

Time and Energy

It takes a lot of time and energy to have a hearing aid that is comfortable and that works well. Expect several visits to the audiologist when acquiring a new hearing aid. A remake of the hearing aid is not an uncommon occurrence. The aid must fit comfortably without feedback (squealing) to be considered a “good fit”. Initially, visits to the audiologist are required to “fine tune” the hearing aid to maximize hearing benefit and to make the aid sound more comfortable (loudness, reduce background noise, sound more “natural”, etc.).

It also takes time to adjust to wearing your new aid. The brain needs to get accustomed to hearing again and to learn to block out background noise. The more you wear the aid, the more accustomed you will get to wearing it. Begin by wearing your hearing aid in situations that are relatively quiet. Listen to sounds around you such as your clock ticking or birds outside your window. These are sounds that every hearing person hears everyday. Once you know what the sound is, then it won’t be foreign to you when you hear it again. Eventually, you will be able to ignore most of the annoying sounds.

The Occlusion Effect or Voice in a Barrel

When initially wearing a hearing aid you may feel like your ears are plugged, or as if you have a cold, and your own voice sounds like you are talking into a barrel. Some adjustments can be made to the hearing aid acoustically and physically to reduce this annoying feeling. Most people get use to the occlusion effect over time and it is not bothersome.

Auditory Fatigue

Initially when wearing a hearing aid, tiredness, headaches, and crankiness may prevail as the day progresses. This is known as “auditory fatigue” and is simply the auditory system being over-stimulated by amplified sound. As you get use to wearing a hearing aid, auditory fatigue will diminish.


All hearing aids have feedback (squealing, whistling) when turned on and are out of the ear. Feedback is the sound which escapes from the receiver of the aid (the part that goes into the ear) and is re-amplified by the hearing aid. Feedback usually occurs when a hand or telephone is placed over the aid while in the ear.

Battery Life

Based on an eight hour day, the small, completely-in-the-canal aid uses 1 battery every 4 to 5 days. The canal and in-the-ear aids use one battery every couple of weeks. The larger, behind the ear style aid use a large battery that can last up to one month. The larger the battery, the longer it lasts.

Two Year Manufacturer’s Warranty

The typical manufacturer’s hearing aid warranty is for 2 years for all repairs. Most warranties also offer a one year loss warranty where the lost aid is replaced once in the first year at no cost or a nominal fee.

Hearing Aid Repair

Expect two to five hearing aid repairs after the warranty has expired and before the replacement of the old aid for a new one.

Hearing Aid Life Expectancy

It doesn’t really matter how much you paid for your hearing aid or how small it is, the average life expectancy is five years. What determines the longevity of an aid is how well it is cleaned and maintained and how waxy the ear is. Behind-the-ear hearing aids tend to last longer because they are worn behind the ear, away from ear moisture and wax.

Ear Wax Problems

The more wax you have, and the thinner the wax, the more problems you will have with your hearing aid. Most hearing aid repairs are a result of wax entering the microphone and/or receiver. A hearing aid needs to be cleaned daily and wax dutifully removed from the ears.

Hearing Aid Remakes

A remake of the hearing aid is required when feedback occurs too often. Feedback can be caused by the aid no longer snugly fitting the ear. The ear can actually stretch from wearing an aid and thus causes the leaking of sound out and around the aid. A remake of the aid will ensure a tighter fit to reduce feedback. As well, an increase of power/volume due to decrease of hearing may require a remake to reduce feedback when the volume is turned up.