Hearing aid guides are not rare, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Most are generally too lengthy or complex, creating more confusion instead of less.
My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the intricacies of acoustical engineering and a lot more interested in locating the right technology at a fair price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll enjoy this short guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small sections, and when we’re finished, you’ll be set 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 feel overwhelming—there are a number of brands and seemingly limitless considerations. But it’s not as complex as it appears. As you move through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids work basically the same way, and include these four basic 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 modified sound signal is then sent to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the person has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
- The speaker supplies the magnified 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 crucial 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 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 simple to handle and clean, typically have an extended battery life, and can manage 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 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 inside of the ear canal, which makes them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some types can be worn for several months at a time.
When picking out a style, take into account the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and decide on the most suitable style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
After you’ve decided on the right style, you can determine which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.
- Directional microphones allow 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 decreasing the static brought about by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for instance in a quiet room at home versus in a busy 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 converts your hearing aids into high-quality wireless headsets. 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 systems, 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.
Selecting the Right Hearing Aids
Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:
- Find a trustworthy, 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 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 functionality. Discuss these two facets with your hearing expert and your options will come to be manageable.
- Establish 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 professional can find the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
- Test out your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to establish realistic expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to perform well. Your perseverance will be paid back when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What feels like a complicated process is in fact easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and limit your choices. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can find the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the advantages of better hearing.