You know how dazzling the sun can seem when you walk out of a dark movie theater during daylight? Your immediate reaction may be to cover your eyes—a reflexive response based on your brain telling you that it’s too bright for you to be out there.
The longer you’ve been living with hearing loss, the more jarring the sudden noise may seem. And people typically do live with hearing loss for several years before deciding to try a hearing aid. In fact, a recent survey of 17,626 Consumer Reports members found that more than 6 in 10 waited for more than 2 years after they first noticed they had difficulty hearing before getting hearing aids.
“After that much time, the brain has fully adapted to listening through the filter of hearing loss, so it’s not surprising that there is an adjustment period needed to get used to newly amplified sounds,” says Catherine Palmer, Ph.D., associate professor of communication science and disorders and otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh.
On the positive side, CR’s survey also found that 3 out of 4 members said it took them less than a month to get used to their hearing aid.
Get The Fit Right
Making sure your hearing aids fit properly in your ears is the first, and most crucial, step toward successful use, and should be done before you take a new device home.
Not only does this make aids more comfortable to wear but it also makes them more effective. “The fit should be comfortable from the beginning,” says Palmer. “That doesn’t mean you won’t notice that something’s in your ear—at least for the first few weeks—but it shouldn’t hurt.”
Before going home, you also need to know how to correctly put the aids in yourself. Even though most aids now come with systems designed to reduce or eliminate feedback, you can still experience the unpleasant screeching or whistling sound if you don’t have the device placed exactly right.
“Never leave your doctor’s office without demonstrating at least two times that you can take the hearing aid out and replace it correctly yourself,” Clark says.
Help Yourself Adjust To ‘New’ Sounds
It can take some time to get used to hearing sounds that you may not have heard for years. Before you take your aids home, they will be programmed to your specific needs.
But if this feels painfully loud, they can be set lower at first, then gradually increase the volume as your comfort allows. Some hearing aids can actually be programmed to slowly amp up over a period of several weeks until you reach your target goal.
When you first start using the aids, know that it’s normal for sounds to seem not only too loud but also too high-pitched. But “the only way for your brain to adapt is through consistent exposure,” Palmer says.
So wear your hearing aids during all your waking hours right from the start, except in situations where they might get wet, such as swimming or showering.