A Concise Guide to Hearing Aids

Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too lengthy or complex, resulting in more confusion rather than less.

My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the ins and outs of acoustical engineering and much more interested in determining the ideal technology at a reasonable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.

If that describes you, then you’ll benefit from this short guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four small sections, and when we’re finished, you’ll be well prepared to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can seem overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly never-ending factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it seems. As you move forward through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids work basically the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:

  1. The microphone registers environmental sound and delivers it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The modified sound signal is then transmitted to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then sent to the speaker.
  4. The speaker renders the enhanced sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

In addition, all hearing aids contain a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two important 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 rest behind the ear. The case is then attached to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are easy to handle and maintain, generally 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 bigger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less visible than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or entirely inside of the ear canal, which makes them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some can be used for months at a time.

When selecting a style, weigh the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and determine the best suited style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve decided on the most suitable style, you can figure out which of the following features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones permit you to concentrate on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the distraction of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while decreasing the static induced by by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based upon your environment, for instance in a quiet 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 high-quality wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from your phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly 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 decide which you may need or want.

Selecting the Right Hearing Aids

Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with ample experience can evaluate your hearing properly, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
  2. Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your choice of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and function. Discuss these two aspects with your hearing professional and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Develop a budget. Some would assert 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 specialist can find the right hearing aid at an affordable price.
  4. Test out your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to set reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to work. Your perseverance will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What may seem like a complex process is in fact easily manageable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and limit your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the most appropriate technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the benefits of better hearing.

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