Whether you’ve recently purchased your first hearing aid ever, or you’ve decided to upgrade your device to another model, chances are that the sounds you’re experiencing feel anything but natural. This is especially true for first-time hearing aid wearers, and hearing professionals go to great lengths to prepare their patients for the expected discomfort of those initial adjustment days.
Even with the most finely-tuned fittings and frequency adjustments, acclimation to your hearing aids is a complex and mostly neurological process. Your auditory nerve is being stimulated by the amplified sounds (regardless of whether your hearing aids are digital or analog), and the sensations it triggers in the brain take some time to get used to. Wearers who have been dealing with hearing loss for an extended period of time before getting treatment (which happens to be the majority of wearers) sometimes describe this period of acclimation as “nostalgic” and even “comforting.” This is because they are again hearing sounds and tones that they didn’t even realize they had lost, and even the awkwardly amplified sensation of it all, at first, can’t compete with their delight over hearing such a wide range of sound again.
Despite this excitement, acclimating to new hearing aids can include a wide array of undesirable symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and ringing in the ears. To help avoid these symptoms, and to accelerate the process of adjusting to your new instruments, consider the following tips:
Expect them to feel funny. Perhaps one of the most common self-defeating tendencies that new hearing aid wearers encounter is high expectations. While these expectations are understandable and even warranted, they are usually not met within the first couple of weeks of wearing your hearing aids. Give yourself the option to hold off on evaluating your experience until at least after the first week of adjusting to them.
Take a gradual approach. As mentioned earlier, hearing aids are stimulating the auditory nerve in unique and often intense ways, and the experience can be overwhelming at first. Just like getting into a hot bath or jacuzzi takes a minute to allow our skin to acclimate to the heat, giving our ears (and brain) some time to gently acclimate to the nerve stimulation can make the process much easier. Consider wearing your hearing aids for just a few hours at first, and slowly increase the time wearing them each day over the course of the first couple of weeks.
Begin in a quiet space. It helps to bring your hearing aids home and wear them first in a very quiet room. The process of acclimation can be most gentle when you first focus on hearing faint sounds instead of jarring, loud ones. At first, even the faintest sounds can appear to be unnaturally loud, but trust that your ears and brain will adjust to these noises and that you won’t hear the clock ticking that loudly forever.
Avoid adjusting the volume too much. Most modern hearing aids automatically adjust the volume of sounds, depending on your environment. If you do need to increase the volume, be wary of turning it up too high as you could actually cause more hearing loss and damage by doing so. An easy way to know if you’re going too far with the volume is if you’re attempting to make your hearing aids more capable than a pair of healthy ears. If others with healthy hearing can’t hear a faint sound, then it’s wise to not crank up your hearing aids’ volume so that you can. Doing so could easily create very loud amplification of other louder sounds that could be painful and dangerous for your ears.
Practice listening with visual elements. You can help accelerate your brain’s connection between your audio and visual stimuli by focusing on activities that involve both your eyes and your ears. Talking in group settings and continuing to face the speaker and watch his or her lips as they talk is useful in this way, as is watching a TV program with the captions turned on so you can read them while listening. Even reading out loud or listening to an audiobook while also following along will help increase this natural acclimation process.
When we first bring our hearing aids home it’s normal to want to quickly regain all of those long-lost sounds again. If we take it slowly, however, we find that our body adapts to these familiar sounds with ease and comfort. With patience, our natural-sounding hearing returns.