A Short Guide to Hearing Aids

Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but the majority are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Most are generally too long or complicated, resulting in more perplexity rather than less.

My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and much more interested in determining the proper technology at an affordable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll appreciate this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four brief parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be ready to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Digital Hearing Aids Work

Selecting a hearing aid can seem overwhelming—there are a number of brands and seemingly never-ending factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it appears. As you move on through this guide, bear in mind that all digital hearing aids work essentially the same way, and include these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone registers environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor adjusts the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then delivered 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 next sent to the speaker.
  4. The speaker delivers the magnified sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.

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

Hearing aids really only differ in two essential 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 principal styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then connected to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and maintain, typically have a longer battery life, and can accommodate severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the exterior 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 completely within the ear canal, which makes them nearly or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some can be used for several months at a time.

When picking out a style, weigh the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and decide on the most suitable style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve settled upon the most suitable style, you can decide on which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while decreasing the disruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while cutting down on the static induced by by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based upon your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home as opposed to in a hectic 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 transforms your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from your phone (or smart 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 on which hearing aid accessories you may need or want.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids

Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with adequate experience can test your hearing properly, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
  2. Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your selection of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two aspects with your hearing expert and your options will become manageable.
  3. Develop a budget. Some would say 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 affordable price.
  4. Try out your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to set reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to perform well. Your persistence will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What might appear to be a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and limit your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the advantages of better hearing.

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