Can hearing aids cause hearing loss?
This is a myth we can bust! Hearing aids definitely do not cause hearing loss if fitted personally for you by a clinician. If this concern has been a barrier to yourself, or someone you love, in addressing a potential hearing loss, please read (or share) this article. This narrative should no longer block the way to better hearing!
Let’s set the scene with some facts. The longer you wait to get hearing aids, the greater the potential for decline of cognitive function, making the impacts of hearing loss much more pronounced. The “use it or lose it” theory helps to explain the relationship between your brain and your ears. When you’re going about daily life with untreated hearing loss, your brain is deprived of the sounds you’re missing and loses the ability to process these sounds. Like the rest of your body, the auditory cortex — which is the brain’s hearing centre — requires exercise to stay healthy. The more time spent without stimulation to this area, the harder it is for the brain to recognise sounds and apply meaning to them. This is what helps you to understand speech. With that in mind, it makes sense that untreated hearing loss has links to an increased risk of dementia and other cognitive disorders. So, the sooner you begin your journey to better hearing health with a correctly and professionally-fitted hearing aid, the better the results.
Why does the ‘hearing aids can cause hearing loss’ myth raise its head from time to time? As far back as 1955, a limited number of case studies and reports set out to draw links between whether hearing aid use could further damage hearing. There were some troubling confounding factors in the methodology of these studies however, including the lack of recording significant information about hearing aid use. This means that it’s difficult to draw any scientific conclusions from the data collected.
Conversely, there is a large body of research that supports the benefits to better hearing health.
Some people also incorrectly believe that their hearing aid has worsened their hearing due to a trick of perception. Once you’ve been wearing your new hearing aids for a while, on removing them the world can seem a bit muted! It’s not that they’ve caused you to lose any of your natural hearing — this effect simply highlights the contrast between your ‘new normal’ and your ‘old normal’. Because hearing loss can happen slowly over a number of years, many people don’t notice it until someone else notices it for them. So, before you had your hearing aids, you might have thought you could hear quite normally. It’s just like when you put on a new pair of eyeglasses after an optometrist visit. You were so used to your old level of vision that you might not have noticed what you were missing. After taking off the new glasses, suddenly things seem much blurrier because you realise how much sharper your vision is with some assistance!
It’s important to stress that only a trained professional can help you get the right hearing aid for you. Having a hearing aid fitted is a personal experience, and an expert clinician will perform the right tests to select the technology for your specific type of hearing loss and lifestyle and then program it accordingly. It might seem tempting to purchase a ‘bargain basement’-priced hearing aid online. But, these inexpensive models are simply ‘amplifiers’ that will make all sounds louder, instead of just the sounds and frequencies you need. This is what can potentially cause further damage. They will not, for example, separate human voices from background noises so you can follow a conversation in a busy restaurant. Only a more sophisticated hearing aid purchased through a hearing clinic can offer technologies that apply the right amplification levels to different sounds, preventing you from suffering unnecessary hearing damage. It’s too much of a risk to take when you’ve only got two ears!
After you’ve been fitted with your new hearing aids, there will be an adjustment period where sounds might seem much sharper and clearer than you’re used to. It’ll take a few weeks to retrain your brain to hearing sounds as they should be again. Don’t be afraid to speak up if certain frequencies do continue to seem too loud, or you have concerns that your device is too loud in general. Your hearing aid should allow you to hear soft sounds that you couldn’t hear before, while preventing loud sounds from being uncomfortably loud for you. It’s important to head back to your audiologist to have this checked, and they’ll be more than happy to work with you to get things right!