One of the major concerns many people have when buying hearing aids is their hearing loss will worsen if they start wearing hearing aids. Could hearing aids cause hearing loss? You might hear stories of people who wear hearing aids and, after a few weeks of doing so, they seem to have a harder time hearing without their devices than they did before using them. However, the reality is that it’s a matter of perception and their brains tricking them.
Why is it harder to hear after I’ve tried hearing aids?
Prior to wearing hearing aids, it’s likely that your hearing loss progressed gradually. Your brain has gotten used to hearing fewer sounds and straining to discern conversation, and subsequently perceives this level of hearing as “normal”.
However, when you begin wearing hearing aids, you brain receives information it has not gotten in quite some time and adjusts to recognize this as the new “normal.” As a result, trying to hear without hearing aids may seem like it is worse than it was before because your hearing loss has become more noticeable. Your brain thinks the new hearing aids cause hearing loss to worsen, but your brain is just adjusting to your new normal.
The new normal? Can you give me an example?
Consider how your body senses temperature. After you’ve been out at the beach all day in 90-degree weather, going inside to a 70-degree room feels chilly, since your body has adjusted to consider 90 degrees as normal. However, when you’ve been out shoveling snow in the winter, going inside to a 70-degree home feels warm. Your brain and body have come to consider below 30 degrees normal. The temperature of the room in question hasn’t changed, but your perceptions have.
In the same way, when you begin wearing hearing aids, your brain learns to take in the new information. When you take off your hearing aids, your hearing loss becomes more noticeable. Your hearing seems muted and diminished without your devices, but it already was; you just notice it more because you’ve been experiencing better hearing with the hearing aids. This is where the myth of “hearing aids cause hearing loss” comes from.
So hearing aids can’t cause hearing loss?
Under most circumstances, the answer to “Will my hearing aids cause hearing loss?” is no. But hearing devices can damage your hearing further if not programmed correctly. Because hearing loss can be caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises (80 decibels is typically considered the top threshold), programming your hearing aids properly is critical. If your hearing aids are programmed to make noises way louder than you actually need, that programming could cause additional hearing damage. However, if hearing aids are programmed correctly, fit well, and filter sounds properly, then they should not damage your hearing.
Do hearing aids slow or stop hearing loss, then?
Hearing aids can help slow the progression of your hearing loss. Are you familiar with the saying “use it or lose it”? In order to stay healthy, nerves need stimulation. When you have hearing loss, some of your auditory nerve cells are being underused, so they can weaken. Plus, your brain is working harder to hear sounds due to less information coming in through those damaged or weakened nerves. The combination of the two leads to further hearing loss.
So what do hearing aids do for my brain?
Wearing hearing aids amplifies sounds you would struggle to hear otherwise, stimulating the auditory nerve cells and “exercising” them. By using your hearing aids consistently, your ability to comprehend sound (and your quality of life) stays optimal under your current hearing loss condition.
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