This is a question that I hear often, both from those who wear hearing aids and those who don’t. When people think of hearing loss, they generally think of an inability to hear soft sounds, which is absolutely true. What they don’t realize is that most people with hearing loss are actually MORE sensitive to loud sounds than their normal-hearing counterparts are. In fact, loud sounds can actually be a bigger issue for people with hearing loss than for their normal-hearing counterparts.
This problem, called recruitment, is very tricky for those who fit hearing aids. On one hand, we need to amplify the specific sounds that our patients have trouble hearing. On the other hand, if the input to the hearing aid gets too loud, the power to the hearing aid could easily exceed the patient’s uncomfortable loudness level, or UCL. In the past, the patient’s only means of dealing with this problem was turning the hearing aid’s volume up and down via a manual control. This created significant issues for the hearing aid wearer, who was constantly turning the hearing aids up and down in response to sounds that were either to soft or too loud. In either case, the noise problem had already happened. The patient was still struggling to function normally.
There is good news
The good news is that today’s hearing aids allow for an automatic volume control. Using something called compression, the audiologist can manipulate the digital circuit so that soft speech is audible (can be heard), and loud sounds are loud but not uncomfortable. Does this happen on day one? No. That’s why it’s imperative that patients go through an extensive trial period so that the appropriate adjustments can be made. Once those adjustments are made, the patient can expect to tolerate the volume in any situation.