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Is Hearing Aid Compression Sufficient Hearing Protection for Hunters?

Chiquita Ewert, AuD

April 7, 2008

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Question

I have found that many of my hearing aid patients insist on wearing their hearing aids when they go hunting so that they can hear the animal when it approaches. I have also had some patients who are not hearing aid candidates that want hearing aids for this purpose. I always advise patients that they should wear their hearing protection. But with digital hearing aids, I can set the output and compression to limit the amount of noise allowed. What is your opinion about this topic? I don't want to encourage, yet I know that they will wear hearing aids hunting anyway. Thank you!!!

Answer

After educating patients on the effects of noise and hearing, it speaks well of your relationship with your patients that they tell you they wear their hearing aids hunting! We all know that hearing aids are not designed to be hearing protection- but I too have met the hunters who wear their aids hunting so that they have an 'advantage' or so that they are safer while hunting. Hunters with moderate hearing loss have indicated to me that they feel safer hunting with their friends if they can hear the others (hard to argue with this). On the other hand we have a responsibility to educate our patients on the potential damage to their hearing while wearing hearing aids and hunting.

If the hunter wears vented hearing aids while hunting, the noise from the gun has a direct path to their ear that no amount of compression or lowered output can decrease- so in effect they are not wearing any protection at all.

If the hunter wears an unvented aid or earmold, then we all know about occlusion loss that occurs with an unvented device, and that occlusive property could actually act as a modicum of protection. As to the dilemma of compression and output limiting in the device acting as protection I am of two minds: I would hate to say that this is a good idea...time constant in the aids may not be fast enough, the impact noise of a loud gun may damage the microphone diaphram and cause the aid to fail etc. On the other hand, if the patient is going to wear the aids hunting- and you know this- I would set a second program with very little gain, very fast 'reaction' time, and very low output and be practical about what they are planning to use the aids for.

Ideally, no one would wear a device designed to amplify sounds for hunting, but the ideal and the reality are often worlds apart. As for the second part of the question: I would NEVER fit someone with hearing aids if they are not a candidate. If they insist on finding out more about amplifiers for hunting- even after we talk about the damage that noise can do to their hearing, I direct them to the Cabella's catalog or to any number of sporting good stores that specialize in hunting and be very clear that I do not endorse this practice.

Chiquita Ewert, Au.D. is currently an audiologist in a muliti-disciplinary clinic in Minneapolis Minnesota. Her audiological experience includes research and development, product management and education and training for major hearing instrument manufacturers. She also provides educational seminars on the dangers of excessive noise exposure to school age children.


Chiquita Ewert, AuD

Education and Training Manager - Bernafon

Dr. Ewert is the Training and Education Manager for Bernafon.  She has experience in the hearing aid industry as a research audiologist, customer service manager and product manager.  Her clinical background includes experience in private practice and hospital based settings.  Dr. Ewert has a master's degree in audiology from the University of Utah and an Audiology Doctorate from the University of Arizona Health Science Center.


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