Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but most are not quite reader-friendly, either. Most are simply too lengthy or complex, adding more perplexity instead of less.
My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and a lot more interested in determining the most appropriate 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 concise guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be set 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 seem intimidating—there are a number of brands and seemingly limitless considerations. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. As you progress through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids work essentially the same way, and include these four basic parts:
- The microphone registers environmental sound and transfers 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 transferred to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the individual has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then transmitted to the speaker.
- The speaker presents the magnified sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.
Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting switches, and remote controls.
Hearing aids really only differ in two significant 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 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 connected to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are simple to handle and clean, generally have a longer 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 larger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes 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 partially or entirely within the ear canal, causing them to be nearly or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some can be worn for months at a time.
When deciding on a style, think about the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and pick the best suited style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve settled upon the most suitable style, you can determine which of the following 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 minimizing the diversion of loud background noise.
- Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while decreasing the static induced by by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based upon your environment, for example in a quiet room at home as opposed to in a lively 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 transforms your hearing aids into top quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from your phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight 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.
Choosing the Right Hearing Aids
Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:
- Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient experience can examine your hearing properly, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
- Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your choice of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and function. Explore these two factors with your hearing specialist and your options will come to be manageable.
- Establish a budget. Some would state 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 an acceptable 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 a chance 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 seems like a complex process is in fact 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 find the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the rewards of better hearing.