Patients that are in the process of being fitted for a hearing aid to help them hear better frequently ask what the hearing aid is going to do with sounds which are still too loud for them. This is a logical question, one for which there is thankfully a comforting answer.
In short, contemporary hearing aids that are properly fitted and adjusted are designed to avoid amplifying sounds which are already very loud. The bold phrase is the important part, and why you need to seek professional help with selecting and fitting your hearing aids.
An explanation of how hearing aids work is required to give a complete answer. 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. Your individual needs can be met with these digital hearing aids by programming and adjusting the maximum volume and the quality of sounds. If you have primarily high-frequency hearing loss, for example, we might program the hearing aid to amplify those sounds while reducing the volume of lower-frequency sounds. This preference can be reversed, of course, if you suffer from primarily low-frequency hearing loss.
In addition, modern digital hearing aids are able to filter the sound to make it more understandable. 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. This process is aided by directional microphones that can detect where sounds are coming from and thus reduce the volume of background noise coming from behind or to the sides while increasing the volume of sounds coming from in front of you.
An important point to remember is that hearing aids will not protect your ears from loud sounds like earplugs do. Noise-induced hearing loss can still be caused by loud sounds such as chainsaws or overly amplified rock concerts. But in most situations your properly fitted and programmed hearing aid should handle most of the range of sounds you’re likely to encounter.