Hearing aids are regulated by the FDA in the United States and are generally safe to use, although there are some potential side effects that are important to know about. Some of the commonly reported negative effects include excess earwax buildup, headaches, itchy and/or irritated skin, feedback, discomfort within the ear canal and tiredness.

However, the results of a study conducted by the American Academy of Audiology in 2018 indicated that the majority of side effects associated with hearing aids are mild. Additionally, many side effects are reduced or eliminated when the device is properly fitted, programmed and maintained.

The Most Common Side Effects and How to Manage Them

Two of the most commonly reported side effects of hearing aids are itchiness and a general feeling of discomfort in and around the ear. These issues are often associated with new users of a device, as well as those with unrelated skin conditions, and they may subside over time as the mind and body become more accustomed to the device. It’s important to resist the urge to scratch the itch, and never poke deep into the ear canal with fingers or cotton swabs (Q-tips).

The excess buildup of earwax is another common side effect and again, this issue is often made worse by itching and scratching within the ear canal, as this causes earwax to become compacted.

Headaches and tiredness may be experienced by users of hearing aids — generally in the early stages of use — and these side effects are most often related to how the brain works. Over time, the brain will adjust and learn to deal with the new sensations and perceptions associated with better hearing abilities. Additionally, the background noises and other annoyances will be filtered out automatically as the brain processes the new levels of auditory input.

Feedback, whistling and other unwanted noises can occur at any stage of hearing aid usage. The causes of these issues are difficult to pinpoint without the help of a specialist and may be due to improperly maintained, faulty or otherwise unsuitable devices. Anyone experiencing these issues is advised to consult with their doctor.

Psychological Issues of Hearing Aids

In addition to the physical side effects detailed above, there are issues with hearing aids that are more psychological in nature. As noted in a 2019 article from the AARP, many users of hearing aids report feelings of insecurity, particularly younger people who think such a device will make them look old. This issue can often be overcome by using a more discrete model of hearing aids.

Other issues noted in this AARP article include discomfort while adapting to a new device, such as distraction from the range of new sounds that can be heard. Background and/or high-frequency sounds are commonly reported to be a problem for newer users, and particularly by people who have been living with a high degree of hearing loss for a considerable amount of time.

Fortunately, the physical and psychological side effects often subside over time and, as such, should not be viewed as a barrier to restoring the ability to hear and interact with the world. An Audiologist can help you select the best hearing aids for your comfort and needs or adjust the ones already you have.