Hearing aid guides are not rare, but the majority are not quite reader-friendly, either. Many are simply too long or complicated, generating 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 more interested in identifying the most appropriate technology at a fair price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.
If that describes you, then you’ll benefit from this concise guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s right for you. Let’s get started.
How All Digital Hearing Aids Work
Selecting a hearing aid can seem intimidating—there are a number of brands and seemingly endless factors to consider. But it’s really not as complex as it appears. As you move forward through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:
- The microphone picks up external 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 revised sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
- The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the person has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then sent to the speaker.
- The speaker delivers the enhanced sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.
In addition, all hearing aids contain 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 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 fastened to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are simple to handle and maintain, normally have an extended battery life, and can accommodate severe hearing loss.
2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the external 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 renders 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, making them almost or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some can be used for several months at a time.
When selecting a style, consider the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and pick the most suitable style.
Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories
Once you’ve settled upon the most suitable style, you can establish which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.
- Directional microphones allow you to concentrate on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while decreasing the distraction 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 optimize hearing based upon your environment, for instance in a tranquil room at home as opposed to 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 transforms your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be controlled 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 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 sufficient experience can assess 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 functionality. Explore these two aspects with your hearing consultant and your options will come to be manageable.
- Develop 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 options available to you, you and your hearing professional can uncover the right hearing aid at an affordable price.
- Try out your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to set reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to work. Your persistence will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.
And that’s it. What looks like a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and limit your choices. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can find the right technology at the right price—so you can start making the most of all of the advantages of better hearing.