That whistling sound coming from your hearing aid seems to be a phantom noise. Indeed, many hearing aid users wonder where the hearing aid whistling sound comes from, and why seemingly at the worst times? Here we have elucidated the mechanisms of hearing aid feedback to clear the air about what is otherwise known as hearing aid “whistling.”

Hearing Aid Feedback: From A to D and Back Again

Before getting to why hearing aids whistle, it is important to understand the anatomy and function of the different hearing aid parts. It is easiest to view it as a series of four conversions:

First, sound is converted to electric signals, or analogs, via a microphone. Every hearing aid, whether behind-the-ear or in-the-ear, has a microphone. The microphone is situated on the outer-most portion of the device to pick up sound and convert it into electric signals.

Second, analog signals are converted to digital signals in a process called analog-to-digital conversion (A-to-D). This happens in the processor. In the digital format, sound can be enhanced and modified according to the hearing-aid wearer’s needs. Frequency amplification, noise and wind reduction, and feedback inhibition will happen in the processor.

Third, the digital signals are converted back to analog form (D-to-A) and go to the receiver.

Fourth, and finally, the receiver converts the analog signals into sound waves, which travel through the ear canal and can be picked up by the brain.

Hearing Aid Feedback: How it Happens

With this understanding of the hearing aid, it is now possible to tackle hearing aid feedback problems.

Feedback is essentially the function of any sound system. It occurs when sound that travels through a microphone to speakers is continuously picked up by the microphone and re-amplified. In hearing aids, when sound leaks from the receiver back to the microphone, the microphone will continuously re-amplify the sound. This creates a feedback loop and leads to hearing aid feedback problems, which can manifest as a high-pitched, unwanted squeal or “whistle.”

Sound leaks back to the microphone when the hearing aid is loosened, causing further hearing aid feedback problems. This can happen any time a person chews, talks, puts on a hat or combs their hair. Loose hearing aids may also be the result of poor fitting.

Vents can also cause hearing aid feedback problems. Vents are holes drilled into hearing aids that allow amplified sound to escape the ear canal. They help avoid the “occlusion effect,” an acoustic phenomenon that increases the volume perception of a person’s own voice due to sound trapped between the hearing aid and the eardrum.
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Hearing Aid Feedback: In Search of a Feedback Foil

Knowing the causes of hearing aid feedback can guide its correction; hearing-aid users will usually try to tighten their hearing aid mold (which can become uncomfortable), go to their clinician for several fittings, or adjust the size of their vents to see which causes the least amount of whistling. Hearing aids can also come with feedback cancellation (FBC) systems, however their effectiveness can vary by the hearing aid manufacturer. More recently, hearing aids have been designed to increase the distance between the microphone and the receiver. Proper fit is extremely important when addressing feedback issues.

The next time that phantom noise punctures the air, it can turn into a conversation piece. But hopefully, your hearing aid whistling days are over.

by Estie Neff

11 responses to “Hearing Aid Feedback: That Whistling Sound

  1. I have hearing aids for several years and one of them stopped working so I took it back to the Audiologist. He tried to fix it and could not so he sent it in to be repaired. When it was fixed I asked him if it was repaired or replaced, he stated that they do not give him that information. He put in my ear and off I went. I then experienced extreme feed back and now I have lost my hearing in that ear.

  2. As a carer who changes batteries for someone else i often hold the aid close to my skin , and if it whistles assume the battery is still ok . however often when the aid is not functioning well as a hearing aid it still whistles/ sqeals when helad close to flesh . so my question is …. can an ‘in ear canal ‘ aid whistle / squeal even when the battery is too low to operate the aid fully?

  3. Surely it is mentioned somewhere but do the hearing aids transmit base as well? I always have a headache at the end of my day when hearing everything in a high pitch. I have my hearing aids in selectively for this reason. When I take off my hearing aids after any meetings/social gathering/conversation, I am so very relieved all the noise is not attacking me anymore. Furthermore, I do also experience the squeaking and adjust the aid continuously until I do not hear this anymore.

  4. Do low batteries cause feedback problems? My mom goes through a battery every few days or when ever feedback occurs. She claims weak batteries are the cause, has she got something there?

    1. Hi there, In short, no, the feedback issues your mother is experiencing have nothing to do with low batteries. The feedback issues have to do with the fit of her hearing aids. Has your mother tried different dome sizes? Also, does she leave the battery door open when she is not using the batteries? This should extend the life of her hearing aid batteries.

  5. I am beginning to believe that hearing aid whistling and/or squeaking is not always related to feedback. I’ve noticed that the higher power hearing aid in my left ear (with a significantly larger in-ear receiver) has zero problems with whistling/squeaking. While the smaller receiver in my right ear often has problems. This despite the fact that the ear without the squeaking is undergoing greater amplification in the higher ranges. It seems that the problem may not be feedback, but the fact that the smaller in-ear receiver is being “over powered” and that going with a larger and more powerful receiver would eliminate the problem. Of course, the HA programming could have something to do with it as well. Another indication is that with loaner hearing aids (where both receivers are smaller and similar in size to the receiver I have in my problem ear) I experience the squeaking in both ears. Any thoughts, advice? I’m at a point, where I’m very frustrated with squeaking inclined to ask my audio to consider a more powerful HA in the ear that squeaks.

  6. I’m a massage therapist and have noticed when I pass my hand close to my client’s hearing aid, it squeals. Any explanation for this would be appreciated.

  7. My mother’s hearing aid frequently gives the high pitched whine of feedback. My mother claims she cannot hear the whine and so we have been inclined to ignore it. When the device is in this sort of loop, can the device still amplify the range of frequencies that she can hear? If the feedback that results in the whine also reduces its ability to amplify frequencies that she can hear, then we should not be ignoring the whine.

  8. I have had these hearing aids for three years with no problem. All of a sudden I have feedback when I am near anything electrical or when I am hugging someone or beside a wall.
    I also have a feeling I am speaking from a hole. I have seen the clinician and there is no wax in the ear. What else could it be?

  9. I have an appointment for a hearing test tomorrow. Do you have preferred recommendations on what you require? Contact me this weekend of early next week
    Tom Mortenson

  10. good information as always. i have this feedback in my right ear after we increased the volume last visit. Waiting for the new model to arrive and can live with the noise.

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