Hearing aid guides are not rare, but most are not quite reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complex, adding more confusion instead of less.
My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the intricacies of acoustical engineering and more interested in determining the most suitable technology at a fair price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.
If that describes you, then you’ll enjoy this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small parts, and when we’re done, you’ll be ready to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s most suitable for you. Let’s get started.
How All Hearing Aids Work
Choosing a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly endless considerations. But it’s not as complicated as it appears. As you move through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids function generally the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:
- The microphone registers external sound and delivers it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor adjusts the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised 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 person has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then sent to the speaker.
- The speaker supplies the enhanced sound to the ear, resulting in 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 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 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 attached to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and clean, normally have an extended battery life, and can accommodate severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy 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 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 within the ear canal, which makes them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some types can be used for months at a time.
When choosing a style, weigh the tradeoffs among ease of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and select the most suitable style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve selected the most suitable style, you can figure out which of the following advanced 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 reducing 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 optimize hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home as opposed to in a lively 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 converts your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from your 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 decide 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 ample experience can examine your hearing properly, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
- Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and function. Explore these two variables with your hearing consultant and your options will come to be manageable.
- Develop a budget. Some would state that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid choices available to you, you and your hearing specialist can find the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
- 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 an opportunity to show results. Your persistence will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What seems like a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can find the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the perks of better hearing.