A whistling hearing aid is annoying. But what does it mean?
Most of us that wear hearing aids are familiar with one of two things: the sound of our own hearing aid whistling or a well-meaning (and probably slightly alarmed) hearing person gesturing to tell us that our hearing aid is whistling.
The sound of a hearing aid whistling varies. It can sound like a ring, a short chirp, a breath in and out of a harmonica, a persistent microphone hum, the emergency broadcast noise (“this is only a test!”), a referee’s whistle, or as in my husband’s case recently: a frantic, squealing bird trying to flee our home.
But WHY do hearing aids whistle in the first place? Well, there’s lots of reasons, but it’s important to pay attention to how often it’s happening because it shouldn’t be making noise on its own very often.
I would say a hearing aid whistling once in a great, great while is “normal” and more often than that, is not.
Think of your hearing aid whistling as communication. Your hearing aid is telling you something. This is its language. You are its person and it’s crying out – alright, alright. BUT..
A hearing aid whistling usually mean it needs help, so you should give it some. Some fixes are easy DIYs while others require a professional.
Let’s look at some common reasons your hearing aid is whistling.
Disclaimer: I am not a hearing aid professional by any means, so this commentary is not to be taken as medical advice. I am, however a Deaf person in my fifth decade of daily hearing aid wear inviting you to benefit from my experience with these suckers.
1. Something is covering or too close to it
Your hearing aid has a microphone to capture sounds for you to hear. When a microphone is covered or too close to something, it gives feedback in the form of high pitched noise (the whistle).
So this could be the case if your hearing aid is whistling. Hats, ear muffs, headphones, hands covering your ears, your sweetie’s head are examples of what can set it off.
BUT, this is usually not the only factor at play. It’s usually combined with one of the other reasons listed below.
2. It’s not attached to an ear
Your hearing aid is designed to work when the mold is snugly tucked into your ear. It’s not even supposed to move around.
So when it’s asked to work (by turning it on) but not delivered to its’ usual workplace, it protests – loudly. So your hearing aid will whistle if it’s without an ear to grab onto.
Random noises and hearing aid-less ears should be a signal to check backpacks, purses, bathrooms, trashcans.
Jury is out if it could survive a dog gulp, but if your hearing aid is missing and your pup is emitting strange whistling noises.. I wouldn’t hesitate to call the vet!
3. They’re in the wrong ear
This is a thing. It happens! People can get their left and right hearing aids mixed up. Upside down, too. Sibling grabs the other sibling’s by mistake.
This might not only happen to the novice wearer, but those who simply don’t wear their hearing aids much and then (possibly) attempt to put them on on the fly. IMAGINE THAT.
So if your hearing aid is whistling and particularly if it looks or feels really odd, it could simply be in the wrong ear.
If it’s a persistent issue, (discreetly) labeling them makes sense. In kindergarten, I had shoes that had “left” and “right” on the toes. Cute and functional.
4. Ear mold is not placed in the ear completely
Ear molds are custom made to fit exactly in a specific ear. Even if you use domes instead of ear molds, they also need to fit snugly in the canal. If it’s not in place, your hearing aid will probably whistle.
It’s tricky because the ear has lots of nooks and crannies that mold is meant to fit into. So if it’s not completely in, it may be hanging out on the ledge wailing for help.
It’s important to understand that the initial learning curve that comes with daily hearing aid insertion as well as one’s dexterity and abilities can play a major part in getting your hearing aid completely in your ear. Honestly, it’s something that takes time and practice. With these, the wearer can usually best determine if the fit is correct or not by how it feels.
For this reason, I would say it’s important the wearer learns to put them on themselves, if possible. Yes, even little kids!
So, if your hearing aid is whistling, try repositioning it or start fresh by taking it out and putting it in again.
5. An improper fit
Generally speaking, an ear mold that doesn’t fit properly wouldn’t make it out of the audiologist’s office, but I guess there could be exceptions that fly under radar. An improper fit is usually indicated by a tiny gap somewhere leaving space between the the mold and your ear.
One way to tell if this is happening is if it’s in the ear comfortably, but moves around a little too easily. If that’s the case, your hearing aid will usually whistle more often, too.
This can be the case with kids that use hearing aids. Kids are still growing so their molds need to be remade more often than adults. In between mold remakes, their hearing aids may whistle more frequently.
If you’re using using a dome and having issues with your hearing aids whistling, consider having ear molds made.
6. You have too much wax in your ear canal
Nice, right?! Unfortunately, this topic has has a place in this list as well because hearing aid wearers can be subject to extra wax building up in their ear canals.
The ear mold blocks air from getting in and that can cause moisture in the canal. This, in turn, can cause more ear wax to accumulate. And then, the mold also prevents the excess ear wax from naturally making its’ way to the outside of the ear to be washed away.
So, over time, this environment can cause the ear canal becomes plugged with wax. Your hearing aid then can’t get the sound to flow through the way it normally would.
It’s kind of like a traffic jam. It’s a literal roadblock. Which, of course pisses it off and it starts *complaining* – in the form of your hearing aid whistling.
So, if ear wax buildup becomes an issue for you, I encourage you to speak with your doctor. This can cause ear infections which can – wait for it.. cause hearing loss! How ‘bout that.
BTW, thank you for coming to this lovely little Ted Talk.
Issues with tubes or ear hooks:
If the actual hearing aid is meant to last 3-5 years (even though we know it could be 10+ with us stealth wearers, but I digress), the tube (the bendy silicone tube that connects the hearing aid to the mold) plastic ear hooks (hard plastic that twists onto the main hearing aid and connects it to the silicone tube) will need to be replaced more often than that.
Hearing aid tubes and ear hooks are a more delicate design and are subject to more of the wear and tear that we throw at it, depending on your lifestyle. And so, issues found within these parts can cause your hearing aid to whistle. Like…
7. Moisture in the tube or hook
Sweat happens. So does leaving them on the night stand to return to them in a puddle of lemon La Croix, but that’s a whole other article. Assuming it’s the former and your hearing aid hasn’t “drowned” in your bubbly beverage, you may have some moisture caused by condensation in the tube or the ear hook.
Check the tube and ear hook by holding it up to a light or window. Upon checking, if you see little water beads, that’s probably why your hearing aid is ringing. It’s a pretty easy fix to get moisture out using the “puffer” tool in the care kits that usually come with them. The mini-turkey baster.
If moisture is an issue for you, ask the audiologist for specific advice on your hearing aid and ask for replacement parts to keep on hand if you may need them. Maybe they have some extra or can at least give you the deets to save you time and $$ ordering in bulk.
8. Wax in the tube
Yes, we’re talking about this again. As I mentioned earlier, ear wax is naturally supposed to work its’ way to the outside of the ear to be washed away. But sometimes it tries to hitch a ride on the part of the ear mold that goes in the canal and gets lodged in the tube inside of it.
You can usually see this easily and work it out using the hook tool in a hearing aid kit – looks like a mini dog-catcher pole. This is preferable to using something with a sharp end (paperclip or needle) so you don’t accidentally damage the tube.
If you see wax stuck further inside the tube, you can disconnect the tube from the ear hook and use the bulb tool (turkey baster) to try blowing it out.
9. The tube or hook could be loose
The tube can slide out of the mold if it’s not anchored in. Same for where it connects to the ear hook. Over time, the once bendy tube hardens and I find it loses traction. If that’s the case, it’s time to replace it.
10. The tube or hook could have a crack in it
This was the case with hubs recently and the squealing bird noises. Being a real DIY-er, he likes to try his own remedies for awhile before “caving” to making an appointment with the audiologist. Meanwhile, the kids are tapping him at dinner, “Your hearing aid – EEEEEEEEE”. Sometimes they hum or along to match the tone. It’s a family affair.
It is possible to buy simple tubes and ear hooks online, if you know what you need – just take note of the measurements. If you are new to hearing aid wear, I encourage you to see the audiologist for them to fix. The parts are really tiny and can either cause a lot of irritation to your ear or it might not be secure enough if it doesn’t fit well. Neither is worth the risk. And if your hearing aid is still whistling, that tells you it’s still not right, so – make that appointment unless you know exactly what you’re doing.
So, those are the main reasons for a whistling hearing aid that come to mind.
Remember, your audiologist is a wealth of information! The American Academy of Audiologists highly recommends consulting with them regarding proper daily care and getting the most out of them.
Final thoughts on whistling hearing aids
A hearing aid whistling more than occasionally is a sign it needs a check-in from you or a check up! Hearing aids are pretty amazing in what they do, but they take care and maintenance to keep them working the way they should. So, when they’re whistling, listen to what they’re telling you!