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Does wearing hearing aids accelerate hearing loss?

I was asked this question on Quora recently. No, is the short answer, but here is the longer answer...

Does wearing hearing aids accelerate hearing loss?

Not as a rule, no. There has been research done on this, and the study I read (apologies I can’t recall the name of it to link my source) found that a small fraction of one percent had hearing loss worse than expected at the end of the study period due to wearing hearing aids. Hearing aids nowadays use digital compression; they amplify only as much as needed. Loud input sounds are either not amplified at all, or only a tiny amount. Very loud impulse sounds are suppressed or removed, so hearing safety is generally excellent, even at lower technology levels like the NHS aids.

Hearing aids are supplied as part of a package of care that includes regular hearing tests to check movement of hearing loss, so we do keep track of this and compare current test results to previous ones. Audiologists have a sense of what's normal and what's not, and in the UK you would be referred to an ENT doctor if that change was beyond what is expected.

The majority of hearing aid wearers have a progressive form of hearing loss, so it is expected that these patients’ hearing will get worse over time, however we can be confident that properly fitted and adjusted* hearing aids are not exacerbating the hearing loss.

In addition to the actual hearing threshold (your hearing test results/graph), you have your ability to understand speech, and to pick out speech from background noise. These skills are impacted by hearing damage, and by age. A person with unaided sensorineural (inner ear) hearing loss will find their speech perception is impaired beyond that of a similar person who wears hearing aids. You must aid your hearing loss in order to keep your speech understanding skills, and you should do it promptly to get the best long-term results.

I'm not suggesting wearing aids as soon as you have the slightest dip on your hearing test graph. If you have a very mild loss that you don't notice and doesn't yet cause any issues, it isn't necessary to aid it. However, when you start having difficulty hearing in background noise, and your TV needs to be louder than everyone else wants it, the best thing you can do for yourself is get hearing aids and wear them every day.

I see so many patients who have put off getting aids for years, struggling to hear socially and causing stress with their partners. They inevitably find that wearing aids is not as bad as they thought, and wish they had done it sooner!

There is another type of patient who grudgingly gets aids but only wears them for “Sunday Best”. Just for TV and social events. Putting off getting hearing aids is bad for your brain, and hearing aids that spend their life in a drawer are not helpful for your brain either. I have both hearing aids and glasses, and without a doubt I find hearing aids the least bothersome. Put them on in the morning and forget about them!

So no, you will not damage your hearing, you will make your life easier, and preserve your fantastic ability to make sense out of the stream of chatter that is essential for living your best life!

* Hearing aids can be harmful if they are not fitted properly, as they are very powerful. Please do not purchase aids from the internet or wear someone else’s aids.

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