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What is feedback?
All hearing devices will produce a slight whistling noise from time to time, regardless of what type or style of device you have. Known as feedback, this sound is often reported to be one of the most annoying aspects of a hearing device. Occasional feedback is a normal occurrence with devices and it is only when you are experiencing significant feedback frequently, that there may be something else wrong.
Types of feedback?
Acoustic feedback: produced when sounds from the aid escape the ear canal and are fed back into the device’s microphone. This is the most common type of feedback.
Mechanical feedback: vibrations from the speaker can be transmitted through the unit to the microphone which results in a feedback loop.
Electronic feedback: often caused by an electrical problem, this type of feedback requires servicing by your audiologist.
There are many situations where hearing aids may feedback, including:
What can I do to reduce feedback?
Any electronic or mechanical feedback will most likely need attention by your audiologist however there are some techniques that may fix acoustic feedback which you can try at home.
Ill-fitting or incorrectly fit devices are the main culprit for feedback. Ensure the earpiece is sitting securely and deeply within the ear canal. The mould/dome should be tight but not causing significant pain. If you have lost a lot of weight recently, you may require a new mould to be made. Sometimes a small amount of water-based lubricant (not Vaseline) can be put on the mould to create a better seal and reduce feedback however this can easily clog the tubing or block the filter – so if you are attempting this, use the lubricant very sparingly.
Sometimes when inserting the speaker earpiece (RIC devices), the receiver can accidently be angled incorrectly, pointing at the wall of the ear canal rather than down towards the eardrum. As a result, sound can bounce off the ear canal and out of the ear, creating that recognizable whistling. Our ear canals are “S” shaped meaning that straightening the ear canal slightly by pulling your pinna (outer ear) backwards may cause the feedback to stop and correct the positioning of the speaker.
Even a small amount of earwax can result in a significant amount of feedback. As sound travels down the ear canal, it can hit the wax and be sent back out of the canal to get amplified. Check with your healthcare practitioner about removing any wax and/or whether a wax softener is required first. DO NOT put any cotton tips/buds into your ears as this may cause more damage than good to your ears.
If you have access to a volume control on your hearing device, you may want to try reducing the volume to see if this reduces feedback. Sometimes too much amplification at certain frequencies can produce whistling so by reducing the volume slightly, this can eliminate the feedback temporarily until you have a chance to visit your clinician to make further adjustments to the settings.
Over time, tubing can harden and can crack, resulting in a hole for sound to escape through and travel back into the microphone for behind-the-ear devices. Even some in-the-ear aids, if there is a crack in the shell and the microphone is dislodged, this can also result in feedback. Let your audiologist look at your device to determine what can be fixed.
Feedback suppression systems
Feedback is often corrected by reducing the higher frequencies; although this is the easiest way to reduce feedback, it comes at the expense of speech clarity. Most newer hearing devices come with built-in feedback management systems which detect feedback and suppress it before it is produced. Some systems, however, may be so good at solving feedback, that it can impact on your speech understanding. Speak with your clinician about finding a good balance between sound clarity and feedback as it may require some programming adjustments.
Where to now?
Feeling as if your devices are feed backing still or considering upgrading to a newer device with a better suppression system? Feel free to contact the clinic to book an appointment with one of our friendly clinicians today.
NB – these are all temporary fixes for tinnitus. It is best to consult your Audiologist for further advice and recommendations if you are experiencing significant tinnitus.