Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but the majority are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complicated, adding more confusion instead of less.
My guess is that you’re a great deal less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and much more interested in finding the proper technology at an acceptable price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll benefit from this concise guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief sections, and when we’re finished, you’ll be well prepared to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s most suitable for you. Let’s get started.
How All Digital Hearing Aids Work
Choosing a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly never-ending considerations. But it’s really not as complicated as it seems. As you progress through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function basically the same way, and include these four basic parts:
- The microphone picks up environmental sound and delivers it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor adjusts the sound signal according to 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 patient has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next sent to the speaker.
- The speaker supplies the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.
In addition, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting switches, 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 primary styles:
1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then fastened to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and clean, typically have a longer battery life, and can manage severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy 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 noticeable 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, making them nearly or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some types can be used for several months at a time.
When picking out a style, weigh the tradeoffs among ease of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and identify the most appropriate style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
After you’ve chosen 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 minimizing the interruption of loud background noise.
- Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while reducing the static brought about by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based upon your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home versus in a chaotic 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 high-quality wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from your phone (or digital 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 hearing aid accessories you may need or want.
Choosing the Right Hearing Aids
Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:
- Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with adequate experience can evaluate your hearing accurately, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
- Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your choice of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two factors with your hearing expert and your options will come to be manageable.
- Set 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 uncover the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
- Test drive your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to establish sensible expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to show results. Your patience will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What appears to be a complicated process is in fact easily manageable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and narrow your options. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the advantages of better hearing.