Our rapidly changing digital world poses challenges if you have trouble hearing. Until recently, iPods, computers, cell phones and other wireless technology were incompatible with hearing aids, often causing secondary feedback such as whistling and screeching sounds. But now new hearing aid technology is transforming the way you can experience the world around you if you have a hearing loss. Hearing aids with wireless Bluetooth technology allow sound to be received from electronic equipment directly to the ear. This hearing aid technology has the ability to search for signals from a cell phone or other electronic equipment. If you use a hearing aid with Bluetooth, you no longer need to worry about putt ing something on top of the hearing aid, next to it, or having to take the hearing aid out to answer your cell phone, enjoy music from your iPod, or watch the TV without turning the volume up. You do need an interface to communicate between the hearing devices and the blue-tooth enabled devices. Also, there are people who haven’t been able to hear well on their older mobile phones but when they’ve upgraded to newer phones (in particular the iphone) they’ve noticed a significant increase in the sound quality and have had success with using the phone normally. If privacy isn’t an issue and a person has some form of hearing in both ears, many people find the speaker setting on their phones very useful as they are hearing “in stereo.”

As a start, if your phone has a speakerphone option try using that instead of holding the phone close to your ear – many people find they hear the caller better that way. Also talk to your audiologist about options that could work with your current hearing aid or implant system. Many modern hearing aids are Bluetoothcompatible and can be configured to communicate directly with your landline phone and mobile phone so that the voice of the person you are speaking with can be transmitted directly to your hearing device/s.If you are a Telstra customer, you may be eligible for a free volume control phone through their Disability Equipment Service. They offer a variety of equipment for the hearing impaired including phones; teletypewriters (TTYs) for text-to-text conversation with other TTY users or text-to-voice calls using the National Relay Service (NRS); a visual ringer alert; and, a cochlear implant adaptor. Have a talk to your audiologist about the brilliant free National Relay Service that is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via internet or TTY. An NRS officer will even visit you at home or work to train you. A volume control phone can also be purchased through Australian company Oricom. Their phone includes an inbuilt telecoil that can assist hearing aid and cochlear implant wearers to attain a clearer signal on the telephone. As far as I know, they also have the one and only mobile phone with an inbuilt telecoil system.

It is normal for a hearing aid to whistle when it is held in your hand, or if you turn it on before putting it in your ear, or if you cover it with your hand while it’s in the ear. Once it is placed in your ear properly and at your preferred volume setting, it should not whistle. If it continues to whistle this could be caused by a variety of factors. Some things that can cause feedback (whistling) include excessive earwax build-up, the earmould not sitting in ear properly, split tubing and increasing the volume of the hearing aid - so check these first. If none of these factors apply, you may need to go back to your hearing specialist for further advice and possibly a new earmould or reshell. 

The whistling or feedback heard when coming in close contact with the hearing aid is a normal phenomenon. It is a result of some of the amplified sound of the hearing aid leaking out from around the hearing aid mould that sits in the opening of the ear canal or the soft domes that are worn within the ear canal. This “leaked”

amplified sound then bounces back into the hearing aid, especially when it is in contact with a nearby surface, in this case your face. There are a number of reasons why hearing aids can be prone to whistling.

  • If there is excess wax in the ear canal the amplified sound directed into the ear canal “hits” the wax and then bounces around the ear mould and into the hearing aid’s microphone. So, it may be worth having the ear's cleaned by a doctor.

  • If the fit of the hearing aid or the hearing aid mould is too loose, the amplified sound leaks out and bounces back into the microphone – often a new, better fitting mould can solve this problem. In some cases a longer mould is the solution and in others a shorter mould can be better. A temporary solution is the use of a non-allergenic gel such as Auragel that coats the hearing aid mould or hearing aid shell and can help reduce the whistling by reducing the amount of sound that can leak between the hearing aid and the skin of the ear canal. Do not apply the gel to the sound bore or mould opening where the sound is emitted, as this could damage the hearing aid, as well as block the sound.

  • Although highly unlikely if the hearing aid has been fitted by an audiologist, whistling will occur if the hearing aid is over-amplified in the higher frequencies, so it is worth mentioning the problem to your audiologist/audiometrist.

Also, if your friend has a severe or profound hearing loss, it can be very difficult to stop this whistling completely because she will require significant amplification and, often no matter how good the hearing aid feedback cancellation system is, there will be a greater chance that sound will escape back into the microphone. In general, the newer hearing aids available now have better feedback cancellation systems, so whistling is less of a problem than it used to be. 

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