Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Most are generally too lengthy or complicated, adding more confusion rather than less.
My guess is that you’re a great deal less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the ins and outs of acoustical engineering and more interested in obtaining the most suitable technology at an affordable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll benefit from this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four small sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be prepared 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
Choosing a hearing aid can seem intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly never-ending factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it appears. As you move through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function essentially the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:
- The microphone registers external sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor adjusts the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then transmitted to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the individual has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
- The speaker delivers the enhanced sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.
Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting buttons, 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 main styles:
1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and rest 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 easy to handle and clean, typically have a longer battery life, and can handle severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the outer 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 visible than the BTE style.
3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely within the ear canal, making them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some types can be worn for months at a time.
When choosing a style, weigh the tradeoffs among user-friendliness, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and find the most suitable style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
After you’ve decided on the right style, you can decide on 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 decreasing the interruption of loud background noise.
- Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while reducing the static brought on by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based on your environment, for example in a quiet room at home versus 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 converts your hearing aids into high-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be regulated 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 decide on which hearing aid accessories 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 ample experience can evaluate your hearing accurately, which is vital 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 depend on your preference of style and function. Explore these two aspects with your hearing expert and your options will come to be manageable.
- Establish a budget. Some would proclaim that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing professional can uncover the right hearing aid at an acceptable 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 a chance to work. Your patience will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What may seem like a complex process is in fact easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and limit your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the benefits of better hearing.