Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complex, resulting in more perplexity rather than less.
My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and much more interested in locating the ideal technology at a fair price. Your intent is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll welcome this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four brief sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to find 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 a number of brands and seemingly endless factors to consider. But it’s not as complicated as it appears. As you progress through this guide, bear in mind that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:
- The microphone picks up environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor modifies the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized 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 person has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next delivered to the speaker.
- The speaker delivers 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 important 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 principal 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 easy to handle and maintain, normally have an extended 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 larger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less detectable 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 almost or entirely 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, think about the tradeoffs among ease of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and choose the most appropriate style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve chosen the most suitable style, you can establish which of the following advanced 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 diversion 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 enhance hearing based upon your environment, for example in a quiet room at home as opposed to in a bustling 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 headphones. The hearing aid settings can be regulated from the 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 making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:
- Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with ample experience can evaluate your hearing accurately, which is essential for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
- Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your selection of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and function. Explore these two variables with your hearing specialist and your options will become manageable.
- Establish a budget. Some would proclaim that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t imply you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid choices available to you, you and your hearing professional can uncover the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
- Test drive your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to establish reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to work. Your patience will be paid back when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What may seem like a complicated process is in fact easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can uncover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the advantages of better hearing.