When Your Hearing Aid Settings Are Just Wrong

This weekend my hearing aid settings were just wrong. I could hear every background noise, each buzz and beep, but not voices. At dinner, the silverware clinking on the plates blocked out the conversation. In the car, the sound of the wind overpowered the music. My children’s laughter in the back seat was excruciatingly loud, but my husband’s voice beside me was not discernible. I had visited the audiologist the day before and we had made a few tweaks. I couldn’t wait to go back to set things right.

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My hearing aids are atypical. They are extended wear and are replaced on a subscription model every few months. I always get the most recent technology, which is wonderful, but sometimes the settings from the last pair are not saved properly and it is a bit of trial and error to get myself back on course. This time was one of the bad times.

I am always surprised that I don’t notice the problem right away, but since the new pair has a fresh battery, everything usually sounds a little sharper and fresher. Sometimes I mistake a problem for this enhancement. Since it takes a day or two to adjust to any new hearing aid settings, I usually give it a few days to be sure I have a problem before returning to the audiologist for a correction. She is always very willing to help, but the interim period is painful.

This particular time, the settings felt incredibly out of whack. The sound of paper rustling was painful. Water running was agony. The strangest sounds were amplified like the sound of my towel drying my face after washing it. Voices were hidden behind the onslaught of heaters, refrigerators and even the wind. It was all too loud and disorienting.

I kept my hearing aids in sleep mode most of the weekend. This reduced the overwhelming din of the background noise and relieved the feeling that I was drowning in sound, but left me feeling disoriented and dizzy. It also revved up my tinnitus, since the sounds I hear through my hearing aids were no longer masking it.

I used lipreading and high levels of mental concentration to follow conversations. By Sunday night, I was wiped out. All I wanted was silence and captions.

The good news is that I knew on Monday, my audiologist and I would work through it and get me back in business. And we did.

This experience highlights the importance of staying on top of your hearing health. If you notice something suddenly odd about the way things sound through your hearing aids, make an appointment with your audiologist right away. Perhaps your hearing aid needs an adjustment or your audiogram needs updating.

Only you can know for sure if something feels wrong — and you must take action to fix it. Your hearing and the quality of your life depend on it.

Readers, have your hearing aid settings ever been just wrong?

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61 thoughts on “When Your Hearing Aid Settings Are Just Wrong

  1. I could relate to this post. Haven’t had quite the problems you describe, but i have found I have to be very persistent in getting the kind of adjustments I need. It makes all the difference.

    • As an Audiologist I expect to see my patients every few months and i encourage it so stay persistent.
      I have worked with colleagues who tell customers NOT to come back and it leaves them isolated if you are not headstrong

  2. How/where did you get the opportunity to get “extended wear” hearing aids, that can be replaced, every few months?
    Who is the manufacturer and how did you find out about this?

    thank you.

  3. Oh, yes, I can identify! For several weeks after getting new behind-the-ear hearing aids all I could hear was my footsteps as I walked about. Voices were muffled and I was sure these were not the hearing aids for me. When I complained to my audiologist, she called the manufacturer and learned that my ‘footsteps’ problem was caused, not by the wrong settings on the hearing aids, but by not having the flexible dome pushed far enough into my ear canal! A gentle nudge to the domes completely corrected the problem, eliminating the sound of my footsteps and restoring the more welcome sound of voices!

  4. Shari, my very first HAs in 1997 seemed loud but I was seriously affected by hearing loss so I could expect some increase in volume – right? So I left the audiologist’s office listening to every foot fall and slamming door. I got into my old pickup truck and started the engine and immediately shut it down thinking the engine had thrown a rod or some other catastrophic event had happened. Ultimately I began the 15 mile drive home but had to turn around and go back to have him turn the volume down. It was just too uncomfortable. And I couldn’t afford a new truck.

    I think what you described is not that uncommon. It’s been a learning experience for me. Over time you become more expert at working with your audiologist go achieve the proper settings. Even then, it may take further adjustment to get it right. There is never a final setting. I do hope things are better for you now. What you describe would drive me nuts.

  5. Hi. What an interesting post. I have recently experienced sudden hearing loss in my left ear. This has left me with only 10 percent of hearing in that ear, which is basically nothing. i have been told that a hearing aid wouldn’t be of any use. Anyway, although i am not a hearing aid wearer, what i really sympathize with you is when sounds are almost painful to hear. i have this problem with running water, the kettle boiling and the sound of pots and pans when they clink together…this makes normal everyday life experiences often difficult to manage. I hope you got your hearing aids sorted and you can get back some improved hearing quality 🙂

    • Thank you for your concern and for sharing your experiences. My settings have been adjusted and I am coping much better. I hope you are doing well with the loud sounds. They can be very troubling. Perhaps an ENT might have a suggestion.

  6. I can really relate to this post. The hearing aid in my right ear had to be sent back to the factory. I was given a loaner to use and it seemed so loud. I was glad when my own hearing aid came back. Unfortunately, it was like the loaner. The paper rustling, clinking silverware, the keys clicking on my keyboard and raised voices hurt my ear and drove me crazy. I asked my audiologist to lower the volume a bit. She fixed it but then it was too low and I had trouble hearing things like the voices on TV. Recently, I had her push up the volume just a bit. It’s better but not perfect. My audiologist claims the settings are correct. I thought I was the only one experiencing this sort of thing. Your blog has been helpful and enlightening.

    • Ask your audiologist if they can adjust the gain for specific frequencies. My audiologist did this for my hearing aids based on what I told her was too loud. I was hearing air noise from the air conditioning vents and then the clinking of silverware and change rattling in my pocket. She reduced the gain on the frequencies for these areas and PRESTO!

  7. Shari, what type of loss do you have? I’ve been curious about Lyric but thought it was for moderate loss. My frustration is…why can every sound be amplified but not voices, the most important thing? My saving grace is that I can manually adjust volume. But I feel your pain. I’m not understanding why FM works so well for most of us when it comes to speech, but hearing aids have not yet figured out how to help us in that same regard.

    • They are for mild to moderate losses so I can use them for now. I like wearing them 24/7. It really helps with my tinnitus. I do wish all hearing aids were better at identifying voices. Thanks for your comments.

  8. I had to laugh reading this post.
    I have a severe Reverse Slope hearing loss. Since it is so rare (something like 2% of all hearing loss people have it), there really is little to no research and development for people like me, as there is no profit in it for the hearing aid companies. So those of us with it have to make do with whatever works, even if it is only a slight improvement. Although the Lyric is for mild to moderate loss, for some reason it works better for one of my ears (left) than other kinds of HA’s. But not in the right ear (go figure!), so I use a BTE in that one. I wanted to give the Lyric another try though, as things are always changing, and I like having it 24/7. So my audiologist put one in my right ear again for a trial.

    I thought I was being attacked by birds, they were so loud it was like something out of a zoo birdhouse, or a horror movie….. but my friend said the birds were actually off in the distance and could barely be heard! Every noise I didn’t want to hear was practically nailing me to a wall. After a day of this I was shaking so badly I had to pull it out of my ear.

    • I have a reverse slope loss as well and can definitely relate. I don’t get the “wow factor” with hearing aids that I feel like many high frequency hearing loss folks do. Speech in noise and talking to people who are on cellphones are my biggest troubles.

      • The Lyric in the one ear coupled with headphones plugged into my cell phone is the only way I can use a phone at all. Telecoils have been useless for me. The nice thing about the Lyric is that you are using your own natural ear to catch sound instead of a behind-the-ear receiver. If only they would come out with a digital Lyric (they are analog) with a wider range for people like us, we might get the benefit others like Shari get.

  9. I wear RIC Oticon OPNs which allow me to get a phone call directly in the hearing aids via Bluetooth. I use that with the InnoCaption app for work phone calls. It’s funny how I have no problem hearing the phone ring, it’s just hearing the person on the phone that is the problem.

  10. Sad that you had to experience this. You’d think your audiologist would have done better. Certainly explains why hearing aids end up in dresser drawers. Kudos for knowing to return for a reprogram.

  11. Hi Shari,

    Yes, yes and yes! I love the new automatic features with today’s hearing aids, but when things are wonky or out of adjustment, yeah, it makes me crazy. I’m old enough to remember manual adjustment aids, perhaps others do too? Daily, we were to have a consistent volume source like TV or a clock radio and adjust the volume on each aid to start the day going from worst to best. During the day, we were actually “encouraged” to make volume adjustments, use the phone switch, etc. Back then, the term, “turn up your hearing aid” although hurtful, did have validity!

    In those bygone days, it was entirely possible that my failure to hear/understand something might have been as much of a technical issue as it was to a hearing loss issue. All the reason to have a close relationship with your audiologist and to stay up to date on your fittings/adjustments.

    A couple years ago, we went on an extended bus trip into New England/Canada to view the foliage, etc. Beautiful, except on the first day something happened to my left aid…..grrrr. (These days, I am severe/profound on the right side and moderate/severe on the left.) Staying on the move and traveling internationally, there was really no time to make even an emergency hearing aid stop……that first night, I bought a “pocket talker” kind of device and made it through the trip. Thank you to the nice folks who changed seats with us so I could get closer to the tour guide!

    This “emergency” prompted me to assemble a hearing aid emergency kit when I travel for longer than over night. Inside, I have the following…

    1) A spare BTE hearing aid with ear molds right and left. (My spare is an old analogue aid from years ago which I had refurbished. Darn thing still sounds good!)
    2) A card of batteries
    3) Tubing, cleaning brushes, etc.
    4) An aspirator bulb to clean out ear molds and tubing
    5) A manual dehumidifier kit
    6) A copy of my audiogram and settings for my hearing aids. My audiologist’s business card and her cell phone number just in case!

  12. Love this article, one thing I have a question is, what is A typical, and how can you go about changing every few months the subscription model? I never heard of that before. Also, do you know if there are any hearing aid companies that have clinical trials for new hearing aid models ?

      • Did your audiologist tell you that your “brain” had to accept the hearing aid? I’ve had mine since December 2013 and I still hear more road noise while driving and the radio just about had to be off.

  13. Hi, i have been wearing hearing aids on and off for some years, they have all been awful. i also have reverse hearing loss can you tell me what is the sound quality like for the lyric and do you get a blocked up feeling? Thanks

    • Hearing aids definitely take some getting used to. It can take several weeks to get used to a new pair. The lyrics are analog and I like their crisp sound but they don’t have very detailed programming ability because they are not digital. Good luck to you.

  14. my father is hard of hearing but has hearing aids either doesn’t wear them or doesn’t know how to adjust them … he is to not about to ask for help he is one of those men … he denies being loud .. I have to turn my tv, radio, etc up so loud to overcome him … what do you suggest ??? my mom doesn’t say anything to keep from him yelling at her …

  15. I would like to give you my way of talking on phone. I have Oticon Opn1 and finally decided to get the IPhone. I was so desperate because I could not hear the doctors office when they called because reading lips was needed. I love using the Iphone because I can control the settings for other situations. But I found a better solution with the phone. I answer my CC phone( I almost sent it back because I could not understand and printing was too slow) then I put on the SPEAKER …I can control how much I hear of the persons voice and also read along too. For some reason the speaker makes it clearer. I have severe hearing loss and can not play the piano anymore. I have tried wearing ear plugs .. If someone has any help about that I would appreciate. it.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story and I am amazed analog (and pleased) is still available! I got an Oticon Dynamo last summer after wearing Oticon Chili for 6 years. The Dynamo is based on a similar platform as the Chili, so I thought it would be a smooth transition. Alas, that has not been the case! The settings feel like they’re completely off, with a lot of booming, echo and mechanical sounds. I know these should be remedied through adjustments with the audiologist. Yet after 5 months of adjustments, the issues have not been resolved. So now I am attempting to discern if it’s best to just get used to the new sounds, or to keep going back to the audiologist every few weeks to adjust the hearing aids? Or look for a new audiologist who might better tackle this issue?

  17. I’ve had my hearing aid for a year now (in our ear) , as the other is a total dead ear. I use Oticon but I’m still not happy. I hear sounds but in the office, I can’t make out conversations. In the past year I’ve been to my audiologist sever times, but I think I haven’t had much improvement. Also, I’m noticing that my words come out slurred when I talk, which is annoying. Any help please? Sometimes I feel desperate.

  18. Shari,
    I just got fitted today with my first pair of Lyrics (and first hearing aids ever). I found your blog post by way of a google search describing the exact issues you were having. Because I am brand new to hearing aids, I didn’t know if the sound of crinkling wrappers, running water (including peeing!), and clinking dishes was supposed to be almost painful. I also experienced the same problem in the car — the sound of the wind drowned out the music and handsfree phone calls. Frustrating. So, what adjustments do they make to correct it? Thanks for the help!

    • Hi David. It can take a few days/weeks to get used to using hearing aids when you first get them. I would try to stay the course for a few days at least to see if you start to get used to them. If not, you can return to the audiologist to adjust the volume settings and the high pitch controls. Let me know how it goes. Good luck to you!

  19. I have just started using digital aids after desperately clinging to my analogues scene I was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural loss at age 3. Im now 37 and have severe hearing loss (pretty even across all frequencies). My analogues finally died ( they were at least 20-25 years old!) so I’ve been fitted with a new unitron, it’s not bad besides the tinny, metallic sounds. Trying to get used to it but speech still isn’t very clear, especially my (very loud and shrill!!) children. I’m worried if I get the audiologist to reduce the high sounds then I’ll lose more speech clarity. Must persist though! Thank you for your article, I don’t feel so alone now.

    • I recently switched from ReSounds to preferred brand Oticon. If something doesn’t seem or feel right, trust your guts. I gave ReSounds two rounds at different times of the year – they simply didn’t work.

      • Different brands of hearing aids work well for different people. It is always good to shop around to see what is best for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  20. I’m new to the hearing aids and I am adjusting except for one glaring thing. I am a singer songwriter and my main instrument is the piano. While I can hear the voices fine, the piano sounds horrendous. Like it’s being played through a rotating fan. I have gone back twice and had adjustments made, but no luck at all. When I contact the manufacturer, they said the settings I have are optimum for live music.

    It’s dreadful.

    So I cannot get help from the audiologist or I cannot get support from a manufacturer? What do I do?

  21. I just picked up my first hearing aid. I have relatively normal hearing in my left ear. My right ear however…. not so good. I have Meniere’s related hearing loss. The audiologist insisted the setting is right. I insisted she turn it down. She turned it down from the threshold of pain to 90 dB. When it arrived in the mail yesterday I tried it out. I live in a quiet environment. It made speaking sound like my voice was shooting an ice pick into my skull. So I turned it down to the lowest volume. It was still too loud. The problem is the highest frequencies. This thing needs some serious adjustment. I like to pick on an unamplified electric guitar which is lower than conversation level in volume, and that sounded like I had the amp turned on to full distortion levels. Flushing the toilet sounded like Niagra Falls. So I switched to the Noisy Environments setting and remained on low volume setting. I can’t stand the thing. It makes me feel sick.

    What I think happened is that she sent the original setting into the company and ignored my request to lower the volume. I’m a senior citizen and I know seniors are thought to be stupid. I had a similar experience with an eye doctor. I’ve learned something that if I see a lot of elderly in an office to find a different provider because the provider usually doesn’t care. Unfortunately this is the provider my insurance uses. I hope I don’t have to request a refund.

    Do you have any suggestions to get them to fix these things so I can wear it? It needs adjustments in frequency bands. High frequency needs to be dampened. And if it’s just going to make everything sound all distorted, I don’t want it.

    • I am sorry you are having trouble. Hearing aids require some getting used to — everything sounds very loud at first — but if you believe you require adjustments you have to advocate for yourself. I suggest making another appointment with your audiologist and bring your detailed requests. You could also see if there is another audiologist in your area that might be more helpful. Check also if there is an HLAA chapter in your area. The members might have local audiologists that they recommend. Good luck to you!

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