Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but most are not quite reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complicated, resulting in more confusion rather than less.
My guess is that you’re a great deal less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and much more interested in obtaining the proper 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 welcome this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief sections, and when we’re finished, you’ll be well prepared to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s ideal for you. Let’s get started.
How All Digital Hearing Aids Work
Choosing a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are a number of brands and seemingly never-ending factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it seems. As you progress 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 modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then delivered to the speaker.
- The speaker supplies the magnified sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.
Additionally, all hearing aids contain a battery, volume and setting buttons, 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 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 linked to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are simple to handle and clean, normally have a longer battery life, and can manage 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 conspicuous than the BTE style.
3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partly or completely within the ear canal, which makes them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some types can be worn for months at a time.
When picking out a style, think about the tradeoffs among user-friendliness, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and decide on the appropriate style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve settled upon the right style, you can decide which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.
- Directional microphones allow you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the interruption of loud background noise.
- Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while minimizing the static brought on by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based upon your environment, for example in a quiet room at home versus in a hectic 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-quality wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be regulated from the 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 on 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 reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient experience can assess your hearing properly, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
- Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Discuss these two variables with your hearing consultant and your options will become manageable.
- Set 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. 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 persistence will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What appears to be a complex process is in fact easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and narrow your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can uncover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start taking pleasure in all of the benefits of better hearing.