A Brief Guide to Hearing Aids
Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but the majority are not quite reader-friendly, either. Most are simply too long or complicated, resulting in more confusion instead of less.
My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and more interested in locating the right technology at an affordable price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll welcome this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief parts, and when we’re done, you’ll be well prepared to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.
How All Hearing Aids Work
Selecting a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly endless considerations. But it’s really not as complex as it appears. As you move forward through this guide, bear in mind that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:
- The microphone registers environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then directed to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then sent to the speaker.
- The speaker supplies the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.
Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.
Hearing aids really only differ in two vital ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll address these in the next two sections.
Hearing Aid Styles
You have your choice of three main styles:
1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then linked to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and maintain, typically have an extended battery life, and can manage severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the outer part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but larger than the in-the-canal styles. This renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less noticeable than the BTE style.
3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely within the ear canal, which makes them almost or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some types can be used for months at a time.
When choosing a style, weigh the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and select the appropriate style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
After you’ve chosen the most suitable style, you can decide which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.
- Directional microphones enable you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while lessening the disruption of loud background noise.
- Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while cutting down on the static caused by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home versus in a bustling restaurant.
- Direct input to sound sources such as televisions, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
- Wireless connection to mobile phones turns your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from the phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight from the phone to the hearing aids.
Optional accessories include cleaning kits, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you determine which you may need or want.
Choosing the Right Hearing Aids
Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:
- Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with adequate experience can assess your hearing properly, which is essential for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
- Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your selection of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and function. Explore these two facets with your hearing expert and your options will come to be manageable.
- Establish a budget. Some would proclaim that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t imply you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing professional can find the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
- Test drive your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to establish realistic expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to show results. Your perseverance will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What may seem like a complicated process is in fact easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can find the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start making the most of all of the rewards of better hearing.