Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are simply too long or complex, creating more confusion rather than less.
My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and a lot more interested in determining the proper technology at a reasonable price. Your intent is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll welcome this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be set 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 really not as complex as it seems. As you move forward through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and include these four fundamental parts:
- The microphone picks up external sound and delivers it to the digital processor.
- 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.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the individual has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then sent to the speaker.
- The speaker delivers the magnified sound to the ear, resulting in 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 essential ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll cover 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 rest 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, normally have a longer battery life, and can handle severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the external 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 conspicuous than the BTE style.
3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partly or entirely within the ear canal, causing them to be nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some can be worn for several months at a time.
When selecting a style, take into account the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and select the appropriate style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve selected the most suitable style, you can figure out which of the following 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 interruption 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 optimize hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home as opposed to in a hectic restaurant.
- Direct input to sound sources such as TVs, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
- Wireless connection to mobile phones turns your hearing aids into top quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from the 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 on which you may need or want.
Selecting 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 accurately, which is essential for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
- Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your selection of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Discuss these two facets with your hearing professional and your options will become manageable.
- Develop a budget. Some would say that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t imply you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing specialist can find the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
- Test out your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to set reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to work. Your patience will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What seems to be a complicated process is in fact easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and narrow your choices. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can uncover the most appropriate technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the benefits of better hearing.