Patients that are being fitted for a hearing aid in order to hear quiet sounds frequently ask what the hearing aid will do with sounds which are still too loud. Thankfully there’s a comforting answer to this particular question.
The basic answer is that present day hearing aids won’t amplify sounds that are already too loud making them even louder, thus possibly harming the user’s hearing even further, as long as they are properly fitted and adjusted. We cannot overemphasize how important the bold phrase is; this is the reason you need professional help with choosing and fitting your hearing aids.
The more complex answer has to do with the nature of modern digital hearing aids themselves, and how they work. Digital hearing aids receive sounds through their microphones and turn them into binary information that can then be processed by the hearing aid’s microchip before it is sent to the earphones. These hearing aids are programmable, which means that not only can the maximum volume permitted be adjusted to suit your individual tastes, the actual qualities of the sounds can also be adjusted. For example, if you suffer from primarily high-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid can be programmed to amplify high-frequency sounds more than low-frequency sounds. If you suffer more from low-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid can be programmed accordingly.
The newest digital hearing aids can also filter sounds to make them easier for you to understand. Background noise can be detected and reduced in volume, while voices in the foreground can be detected and amplified so you can hear them more easily. If volume levels change – for example if music starts at a low volume but then becomes too loud – the hearing aid can dynamically compensate for it. Directional microphones also allow the hearing aid wearer to hear faint sounds coming from the direction they are facing, while suppressing noisier sounds coming from behind or to either side.
An important point to remember is that hearing aids will not protect your ears from loud sounds like earplugs do. Loud sounds like chainsaws or overly amplified rock concerts, will therefore still be able to cause noise-induced hearing loss. But in most situations your properly fitted and programmed hearing aid should handle most of the range of sounds you’re likely to encounter.