A common question asked by patients being fitted for hearing aids concerns whether the hearing aids that are intended to help them hear weak sounds will make the loud noises too loud. This is a natural question, one for which there is thankfully a comforting answer.
The basic answer is that present day hearing aids won’t increase sounds which are already too loud and make them even louder, thus potentially damaging the wearer’s hearing even more, provided that they are properly fitted and adjusted. The bold phrase is the critical part, and why you should seek professional help with choosing and fitting your hearing aids.
The more complex answer has to do with the nature of modern digital hearing aids themselves, and how they work. Basically, they pick up sounds and transform them into digital information, which is then processed by the microchip in the hearing aid in many different ways before being routed to your ears. These digital hearing aids can be programmed, allowing audiologists to not only set a maximum volume that suits you, but to transform the nature of the sounds you hear. For example, if you suffer from primarily high-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid can be programmed to amplify high-frequency sounds more than low-frequency sounds. If you suffer more from low-frequency hearing loss, the hearing aid can be programmed accordingly.
Digital hearing aids also have the ability to filter sounds so that you can hear and understand them better. Background noise can be detected and reduced in volume, while voices in the foreground can be detected and amplified so you can hear them more easily. The hearing aids can also be adjusted to dynamically compensate for differences in volume; if the speaker or music you are listening to starts softly but then increases and becomes too loud, the hearing aid can compensate for this. Directional microphones also allow the hearing aid wearer to hear faint sounds coming from the direction they are facing, while suppressing noisier sounds coming from behind or to either side.
Be aware that hearing aids do not protect the ear the way that ear plugs are designed to do. Noise-induced hearing loss can still be caused by loud sounds such as chainsaws or overly amplified rock concerts. However, the most common sounds you encounter should be handled by your properly fitted and programmed hearing aids.