by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A wife wrote:
My husband believes that wearing his hearing aids will over the long run increase his hearing loss. I’d appreciate if you could direct me to any information that would address his concern.
That’s a question that a number of people have concerns with. Anything is possible, of course, but the short answer is that typically no, hearing aids won’t damage your hearing. However, if you have a severe or worse loss, there is another side to the story, so keep reading.
Loud sounds damage our ears (either instantly or eventually). That is not open to question. The currently accepted level is that sounds less than 80 dB will not harm your hearing, no matter how long you listen to them.
After that, the louder the sound, and the longer you listen to it, the greater the chances of hearing loss.
Normal human speech lies in the range of 50 to 60 dB. However, when you have a significant hearing loss, you can’t hear at that level any more so you need amplification.
The problem with the older linear analog hearing aids was that they amplified all sounds together. Thus, the softer parts of speech were amplified so you could hear them, but at the same time the louder parts of speech were also amplified and thus became too loud.
Modern digital hearing aids are able to amplify softer sounds, while at the same time, not amplifying so much, or at all, the louder parts of speech so they don’t become loud enough to damage your ears. That’s the theory.
However, in practice, the worse your hearing gets, the louder you need sound in order to hear it comfortably—and that could mean listening to speech at ear-damaging levels.
This is my situation. I have a choice, either hear (and understand) speech and eventually lose more hearing, or not hear and preserve my remaining hearing.
I do both in such a way that I get the best of both worlds. Remember, the longer and louder the sound, the more damaging it is. Thus in order to preserve hearing you can either limit the time you are listening to loud sounds, or you can turn down the volume.
The way I do it is, when I am around people and need to chat with them, I wear my hearing aids at the volume I need in order to hear and understand them. Then, I take my hearing aids off and give my ears a rest. Thus, they are not exposed to loud sounds continuously.
My MCL (most comfortable level) is around 80-85 dB under ideal situations. However, in real life, there are few ideal listening situations so I need more volume.
The trick is to be prudent in wearing your hearing aids. If you are in noisy places, turn them down or take them off and wear ear protectors instead. But in quiet situations, your hearing aids aren’t putting out much volume so there is little chance they will damage your ears, no matter how long you wear them.
Personally, I wear my hearing aids when I want to talk to people and the rest of the time I leave them off and rest my ears. But, then, I enjoy the silence. I don’t have a compulsive need to hear every environmental sound around me. You do what works for you.