Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but the majority are not quite reader-friendly, either. Most are simply too long or complicated, resulting in more perplexity 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 a lot more interested in obtaining the best technology at an acceptable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.
If that represents you, then you’ll welcome this concise 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 most suitable for you. Let’s get started.
How All Digital Hearing Aids Work
Choosing a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are a number of brands and seemingly endless considerations. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. As you move on through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids work essentially the same way, and include these four fundamental parts:
- The microphone registers environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
- The digital processor modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized 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 individual has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
- The speaker renders the enhanced 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 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 primary 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 easy to handle and clean, generally have a longer 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 renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less noticeable than the BTE style.
3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partly or completely inside of the ear canal, which makes them almost or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some can be used for several months at a time.
When selecting a style, think about the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and decide on the most suitable style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve decided on the most suitable style, you can establish 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 cutting down on the static brought on by background noise.
- Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for instance in a tranquil room at home versus in a busy 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 headphones. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from the phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly 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 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 test your hearing accurately, which is essential 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 hinge on your preference of style and function. Explore these two facets with your hearing consultant and your options will become manageable.
- Develop 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 specialist can find the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
- Test drive your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to set realistic 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 appears to be a complicated process is in fact easily manageable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and narrow your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the benefits of better hearing.