Most people who are fitted with a hearing aid for the first time are very pleased to be able to follow what others are saying and to hear the sounds around them more clearly than before. All is well… until they hear their own voice, which may sound hollow, unpleasant, or uncomfortably loud. They are often disappointed and dissatisfied with the sound of their voice and may even choose not to wear their hearing aids for this reason. To prevent this, it is valuable for you as a hearing aid wearer, or potential wearer, to gain an understanding of how your own voice is produced and why you and other listeners perceive it differently. The cause of unpleasant experiences with your hearing aid and your own voice, as well as possible solutions, are discussed below.
Why don’t I like the sound of my own voice?
Our voices are unique to us and form an important part of our identity. If you have listened to a recording of your own voice, such as a phone message, you may have been surprised or even upset that it sounds so different from the way in which you are used to hearing yourself. Perhaps you have thought, “Is this really my voice? I don’t like it at all!” The way in which we perceive our own voice is very personal, and yes, we do hear ourselves differently from the way others hear us. The reason for this is that we hear our own voice through a process called bone conduction. When we speak, the vocal folds or “voice box” in the throat produce vibrations that carry sound through the skull to the cochlea or inner ear. Our voices sound deeper and richer to us because we hear the sound along this internal route through bone conduction as well as from the outside through the external ear. For people wearing hearing aids, their own voice may sound even more unfamiliar and unnatural. There are two possible causes for this.
Hearing aids are designed to make sound louder and clearer. When you wear a hearing aid, all the sounds surrounding you will be amplified (made louder), including your own voice. As loss of hearing usually comes gradually, a person wearing a hearing aid for the first time may not have heard his own voice at normal levels for quite a while. The person is suddenly exposed to a completely different voice which can be perceived as unfamiliar and much louder than before. This can be especially problematic if the person’s hearing loss affects the ability to hear high-pitched sounds more than low-pitched sounds. The person may complain that his voice is echoing, or that it sounds as if he is speaking with his head in a barrel.
The Occlusion Effect
When we produce our voice and the bones in our skull vibrate as described above, some of these vibrations escape through the ear canals. If the ear canal is blocked by something, such as a hearing aid, earmold, or ear dome, these vibrations are trapped between this blockage and the eardrum. The increase in sound pressure in this space causes the sensation of increased loudness or a blocked-up feeling in the ears. This is called the occlusion effect. Your voice will sound boomy and the sound of chewing or your own footsteps may be unbearably loud. A person with normal hearing can experience these same sensations by blocking their ears with their fingers. The occlusion effect may be worse for hearing impaired people with better hearing for low pitched sounds and poorer hearing for high pitched sounds, and especially for men with deeper, more resonant voices.
What can be done about it?
If you have experienced the problems and challenges described so far, you are not alone. Issues around the quality and loudness of your own voice are very common among hearing aid users. Your Lexie hearing expert is well equipped to assist you in finding some solutions. Depending on the type and degree of hearing loss and the type of hearing device you are wearing, some of the following adjustments may be possible:
Venting: By creating or widening an air vent in an in-the-ear hearing aid or in the earmold of a behind-the-ear hearing aid, air trapped between the device and the eardrum will be able to escape. This reduces the amount of trapped vibration from the wearer’s voice and will reduce the loudness and unnaturalness of the sound. Since venting causes amplified sound to be lost, it is more effective for milder hearing losses than more severe hearing losses which require more amplification.
An open-fit: For a hearing loss that is not too severe, a hollow earmold or a thin-tube receiver attached to a dome may be used in order to reduce the occlusion effect. This is most effective for people who have good low-frequency hearing and hearing loss which affect mostly high-pitched sounds.
A deeper fit: A deeper fitting, completely-in-the-canal hearing aid helps to overcome the occlusion effect by improving the seal between the device and the bony part of the ear canal. However, these deeper-fit devices are not suitable for everyone and can be uncomfortable to wear.
Hearing aid setting adjustments: your hearing health professional may be able to fine-tune your hearing aid settings so that loudness is increased or decreased for certain frequencies. This can improve your perception of your own voice quality.
In addition to any of the above adjustments that may be suitable for you, you may need to allow your brain time to adjust to the new sound of your voice. Adapting to a new and different sound quality takes time and patience. Your Lexie hearing expert can guide you through the adjustment process by introducing gradual changes to the programming of your hearing aid and helping you to implement an individualized adaptation plan. With perseverance and teamwork, challenges related to hearing aids and the loudness and quality of your voice can be overcome.