A common issue with children’s, toddlers or babies hearing aids and cochlear implants is feedback. If your child has been recently diagnosed with hearing loss, you may not be yet acquainted with this issue, but for the rest of us, we’re all too familiar with that terrible shrieking sound that hearing devices can sometimes let off. After living with children’s hearing aids or cochlear implants for a while, you and your child will naturally pick up on the things to do and avoid doing, in order to prevent these noises, but for first timers, here’s a rundown of the top reasons why we get children’s hearing aid feedback, and how to avoid it…
As babies, toddlers and children grow, so do their ear canals, and earmolds need to be remolded on a regular basis to ensure a comfortable fit for hearing aid devices. An earmold that is slightly too small can leave an air gap between the earmold and the ear canal, which means that the sound travelling through the hearing aid will bounce back out of the ear and into the microphone. This is known as feedback and the first thing to check if it’s a regular problem for your deaf baby or child is whether or not earmolds need to be refitted.
Especially with hearing aids for babies or cochlear implants for babies, earmolds will be very small and the ear canal very narrow. The smaller earmolds are, the more susceptible they are to cracking, especially along where the tubing is. Checking earmolds for cracks or damage should be a daily routine you will become accustomed to, but be sure to be especially vigilant if squeaks are occurring often from your baby’s hearing aids or cochlear implants.
It’s the tubing inside the earmold that carries the sound from the device to the inner ear. If it’s rigid or cracked, it can allow sound to escape, meaning feedback as vibrations and noise bounce back to the device microphone. It’s best to change tubing at least every four to six months to ensure optimum sound. Retubing also needs to happen if wax build-up is a big problem, and the tube becomes blocked at all.
The elbow – the hard piece of plastic which sits on top of the ear and attaches the hearing aid BTE section to the tubing can actually break or crack, causing sound to leak, just the same as the tubing can. Be sure to check the elbow for cracks or holes, and ask your audiologist for spares in case of breakages. Children and babies can break elbows far easier than you would imagine, so it’s good to always have spares ready just in case.
Not an easily solvable problem but a big cause of feedback can be contact with the microphone on a child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. Squeaking may happen particularly often when cuddling your infant, or feeding your baby up close. It may also happen if your child is wearing a hat or clothing that covers or brushes past the microphone.
Wax build-up inside the ear is another factor when it comes to squeaking noises coming from babies hearing aids or cochlear implants. If your child’s ears become too waxy, sounds can reverberate off of the wax and back into the hearing device instead of being able to pass freely into the inner ear. To clear wax, use olive oil drops or sprays such as Earol. It’s best to avoid sodium bicarbonate for little ears if possible, but if you are having trouble clearing wax with olive oil alone, speak to your audiologist for other solutions, including microsuction.
When we speak or have a lot of jaw movement, such as when we eat or even sneeze, our ear canals actually move along with our jaws. As children’s ear canals are small, this movement can cause earmolds to move out of place, causing an air gap that allows feedback. This issue should resolve itself over time, as your child’s ears grow but you could speak to your audiologist about altering the earmolds to have a longer piece to go into the ear canal. Good quality lubricants can also help to create a seal, to minimise movement. We find the best lubricant for this is Otoferm but there are many others out there you could try.
Your baby or child may experience more feedback noise from hearing aids or cochlear implants if he or she has narrow ear canals, as the sound can bounce back into the hearing aid more easily, similarly to with wax. There are certain syndromes or conditions that are prone to narrow ear canals, so you may want to speak to your GP or audiologist to further explore if this is the case.