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Why do NHS hearing aids whistle (or hurt, or are too quiet etc etc)?

I meet a lot of people who are having problems with their NHS aids and are thinking of going private because of them. This is not a bad thing and many people’s lives change for the better when they upgrade their hearing aids, as I’ve covered before. But some people can manage just fine with NHS aids and their money is better spent/kept on/for something different. People who live alone or with one other person, who don’t go to noisy venues and don’t get together in groups for whatever reason, they can usually be taken care of by the NHS easily.

There is nothing inherently wrong with NHS aids, they’re just quite basic. The following problems aren’t to do with the aids, they’re down to the service.

  • Whistling (feedback) or buzzing aids

  • Aids too quiet

  • Aids are uncomfortable

All can be solved.

Feedback is caused by the sound from the aid’s speaker finding its way back into the microphone. It is then endlessly amplified and the aid will shriek. It can be caused by a blocked ear canal, close fitting headgear, or an aid that is turned up too high for the fitting. You may need an earmould that has a smaller vent size, or you may need a different type of dome. If you have started needing to turn your aids up and they are now frequently whistling, you need to make an appointment with Audiology to reassess your hearing or at least change the fitting type. There is absolutely no reason someone should have to cope with feedback and private aids are subject to the exact same issues.

Aids that are too quiet, or were good to start with but now are not so good, can often be resolved with a short appointment to tweak the volume/sharpness. If it has been over 18 months since you saw the audiologist, your hearing may have changed. It can be fixed. If the aids were initially meeting all your needs but you’re struggling 2 years on, this suggests NHS equipment will work for you, you just need to book an appointment with Audiology. If the aids have never helped you enough in challenging listening situations such as noise, that is a good case for investigating private options which are more advanced.

Aids that are uncomfortable can also usually be fixed by the NHS. Your earmould may need to be shaved or remade. You might need a longer tube or a different size of dome. These are all things that can and should be resolved by going back to the Audiology department so you can wear your aids. If they are too big and you can’t get them on with your glasses, that is fixable by private styles, but you may also want to try changing your glasses for some with the thinnest arms you can find.

People are often disappointed to find that hearing aids require detailed follow ups and that trial and error is often required. I’ve seen reviews that say the audiologist was terrible because they ordered the wrong wire size. It’s not always so simple, and sometimes you have to try something out and then review/replace/tweak until the best solution is found for the individual.

NHS follow up care plans are not as good as they could be, and they often rely on the patient to come forward and complain of an issue, rather than proactively following up. NHS audiologists don’t like this system, but it is what is affordable to the organisation. So you do need to speak up if something is not right. If you don’t, you’ll never know if it was fixable. You should have a contact number for your Audiology department (hopefully an email address too if they are accessible!).

Private aids are fantastic solutions for some fundamentally difficult situations, and of course I enjoy being able to offer a high quality service now that I’m working privately/independently. But NHS aids are good basic aids and the NHS will fix your problems if you present with them. The sheer amount of NHS aids languishing in a drawer while people write them off as no good is tragic. Hearing health is so important for quality of life, social and cognitive reasons, so if you’ve been prescribed hearing aids please do take them back if something isn’t right, and give them another chance to fix your problems.

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