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Hearing aid occlusion effect: Causes & solutions

Last update on Feb, 07, 2023

If you’re wearing hearing aids for the first time, it’s important to know that adjusting to them can take some time, and there’s a learning curve. Certain noises and voices—including your own—may sound different with hearing aids. Many new hearing aid users complain that their voice sounds funny—like it’s echoing, muffled or booming. In the hearing world, this is known as the occlusion effect

What is the occlusion effect?

The hearing aid occlusion effect is when self-generated noises like talking, chewing, swallowing or walking sound amplified or hollow to a person wearing hearing aids. This can be a very unpleasant sensation, and it’s something that can also happen when wearing in-ear headphones or earbuds. In both cases, it happens because the ear openings are fully occluded or blocked. The noises affected by the occlusion effect are generally lower-frequency sounds.

What causes the occlusion effect?

Occlusion effect causes are most often linked to a blockage of the outer ear canal by an object—like hearing aids, headphones or ear plugs. Typically, when a person talks or chews, sound vibrations are conducted by the tiny bones in the middle ear; those vibrations become signals to the brain, but some also exit through the open ear canal. But when the ear canal is blocked, those sound vibrations move back toward the eardrum, changing the acoustic resonance of those sounds making them seem louder. 

What hearing aids minimize the occlusion effect?

Certain types of hearing aids are better at minimizing or preventing the occurrence of hearing aid occlusion effect. 

A receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid is the best option for minimizing occlusion effect. The domes found on many RIC hearing aids are flexible and vented, which inherently prevents occlusion since air and sound can flow through those vents. The speaker, or receiver, also sits in the ear canal, which reduces the bounce back of sound vibrations.

As a bonus, the increased distance between the in-ear speaker and the microphone that sits behind the ear helps minimize feedback. Miracle-Ear’s RIC hearing aids offer the most natural sound experience while also being lightweight and discreet.

If you’re considering custom hearing aids, your hearing care professional (HCP) at Miracle-Ear will take an impression of your ears to ensure the earmold or receiver perfectly fits inside of your ear canal for optimal comfort. In some cases, venting will be added to hearing aids to help prevent the occlusion effect.

Some types of hearing loss are better suited to closed-fit (non-vented) versus open-fit (vented) hearing aids, which could be a factor in whether custom hearing aids are right for you. Your HCP will guide you to the best hearing aid style for your needs.

Your HCP will also custom program your hearing aids to suit your individual needs and lifestyle. If certain sounds continue to be unpleasantly loud, they can make adjustments to balance your comfort and hearing loss needs. 

How to reduce the occlusion effect?

The patented Voice Recognition Technology found in Miracle-Ear hearing aids can greatly reduce the occlusion effect. This technology quickly learns to recognize the sound of your own voice and processes it separately from other voices and sounds. The result? Your voice sounds more natural to your own ears.

For those deeply bothered by the occlusion effect, you may want to discuss open-fit hearing aids vs. closed-fit hearing aids with your HCP, as the former has larger vents to allow more sound to pass through. This can reduce occurrences of the occlusion effect. Switching dome styles can also help. With custom programming, your HCP may also explore reducing low-frequency amplification gain—since the occlusion effect only happens with low-frequency sounds—to see if that makes a difference in your hearing experience.

hearing care professional at store

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Can the occlusion effect damage my hearing?

While the occlusion effect doesn’t directly cause damage or worsen hearing loss, it’s important to speak with your HCP if you have concerns; they can help with any fit and audio issues. You can always schedule a visit at your local Miracle-Ear store to discuss concerns and make adjustments.

Does the occlusion effect get better with time?

For most people, the occlusion effect does lessen over time—even in as few as one or two weeks. For first-time hearing aid wearers, a big part of occlusion effect management is simply getting used to the sound of your own voice being amplified by your hearing aids. As you adjust to your new hearing aids, you can practice speaking or reading aloud to yourself to speed up the process of getting used to hearing yourself talk while wearing your devices.  If you continue to experience the occlusion effect in a way that interferes with conversations or your daily life, talk to your HCP.

What are other causes of hearing aid noises?

Not all troublesome hearing aid sounds and noises are caused by the occlusion effect. A common concern is hearing aid feedback, which occurs when the microphone sound waves bounce back to your hearing aids, causing a whistling, crackling or squealing noise. While it’s normal for this to happen when hugging someone or getting dressed, regular or continual feedback is the result of an issue with your device; talk to your HCP if this is an issue.

Another common noise concern when adjusting to hearing aids is being able to hear distracting background noises. This is completely normal, as hearing loss generally means you’ve lost some or all of the “normal” background noises from day-to-day life—from birds singing or traffic noises to hearing appliances running in your home. This may be incredibly distracting at first, but as with hearing occlusion, your ears and brain will adjust, and you’ll become used to these background noises soon. Miracle-Ear’s Speech Isolation Technology can also help with troublesome background noises, especially when you’re trying to hold a conversation.

If you’re experiencing any unpleasant sounds or tones with your hearing aids, including the occlusion effect, don’t hesitate to contact your local Miracle-Ear location. With lifetime aftercare services offered with any Miracle-Ear purchase, you not only receive free annual hearing tests, hearing aid cleans and checks and device repair, but you can also come in for adjustments—large or small—to optimize the quality of your hearing.

Man wearing a hearing aid with dog and granddaughter

Need help with your hearing device?

If you’re having trouble with placing your hearing aids or removing them, don’t settle for a frustrating experience. Free lifetime aftercare is part of every Miracle-Ear purchase, and your hearing care professional (HCP) is there to help you with any challenges—no matter how small. Contact your neighborhood Miracle-Ear hearing center or stop by to get the help you need.

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