Hearing Aids are the most commonly prescribed support for persons who have a hearing loss.
Once the medical implications of a hearing loss have been considered and managed, an appropriate hearing aid may help to restore some degree of hearing capacity. A Hearing Aid is a small electronic device with a microphone that amplifies sounds through a tiny speaker. You must have some ability to hear for the device to work (also called residual hearing).
Consumers may choose from a variety of sources to obtain hearing aids. These range from Hearing & Speech Centers, Otologists, Audiologists, Hearing Instrument Specialists, to mail order catalogues and Internet sites. Catalogues and Internet sites are likely to multiply in number in the future, particularly since many offer substantial discounts. Prior to purchasing hearing aids, it is important to be evaluated by a competent professional. Like glasses for vision, hearing aids must be individually prescribed, fit, and adjusted.
What are the benefits of hearing aids?
Each person’s hearing loss is unique. The benefits of hearing aids are dependent on the degree of loss and ability to understand speech sounds as well as the type of hearing aid. Additionally, environmental sounds and architecture can influence hearing. In general, hearing aids may:
- Increase ability to hear environmental sounds
- Reduce speech reading effort
- Reduce communication stress/fatigue level
- Improve understanding of speech with or without visual cues
- Improve ability to use the telephone
- Increase appreciation of music
It is important to have realistic expectations regarding the effectiveness of hearing aids whether you are a new user or know someone who uses hearings aids.
Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing. Most people who are prescribed hearing aids have a sensorineural hearing loss. This means that the nerves that carry sound to the brain are damaged. Sounds that reach the brain for processing may be distorted. A condition called tinnitus (commonly called ‘ringing in the ears’) produces a buzzing or ringing sound that further obscures sounds perceived by some people with hearing loss. For a few, hearing aids only serve to make the garbled sounds louder, not necessarily clearer.>
Digital hearing aids and analog programmable hearing aids have come a long way towards improving what people with hearing loss hear. These new hearing aids can precisely adjust the incoming sound, much like a graphic equalizer on a stereo. The audiologist can program the aids so that certain sounds are amplified more than others. While not a perfect solution, most users agree that these more advanced types of hearing aids are a marked improvement over conventional analog hearing aids.
What kinds of Hearing Aids are available?
Hearing aids come in a variety of styles and contain different types of circuitry. Style of aid refers to where the aid is worn on the body. Circuitry refers to the type of electronic system that produces amplification.
Styles of Hearing Aids:
Behind–The–Ear (BTE) — Behind–the–ear hearing aids sit behind the ear and pass amplified sound through a tube to a customized ear mould that fits inside the ear. Larger than in–the–ear models, these hearing aids can accommodate larger batteries and amplifiers; their size allows more powerful units that may be more effective for a severe to profound hearing loss. Because the larger size is easier to manipulate, behind–the–ear aids may be more suitable for people with limited fine motor coordination.
In–The–Ear (ITE) — In–The–Ear hearing aids fit entirely into the ear. Instruments are custom–made and range from full–shell models, which fill the outer ear, to tiny In–The–Canal (ITC) models that seat deeply in the ear.
Completely–In–the–Canal (CIC) — Completely–In–The–Canal hearing aids fit deeply into the ear canal. Circuitry, batteries, and any adjusting mechanisms are extremely minute. Because these aids are inconspicuous when worn, some users prefer this style. However, the small size may increase expense and be difficult to handle for those with arthritis or fine motor coordination problems.
Body Worn — Body worn hearing aids feature larger, easier to handle controls and parts that are contained in a case. The case is carried inside a pocket or clipped to clothes. A cord runs from the case to an ear mould in the ear. The larger size allows for the use of larger batteries, provides greater power and less feedback. Disadvantages of body aids are visibility, a cumbersome size that allows the body to block sounds, difficulties locating sounds, and distracting noise from amplified clothing sounds.
Types of Circuitry:
Inside every hearing aid is a complex system of electronics, microphones, amplifiers, and batteries. While the style of hearing aid can be seen, the circuitry determines the adjustability and functionality of the hearing aid.
- Conventional Analog — These are the least expensive type of hearing aids and the least adjustable. With these aids, all sounds are amplified equally. The result is that sounds that are easier to hear without aids become louder and may overpower sounds that are more difficult to hear. For example, someone with a high frequency loss my still be unable to hear speech, but may be annoyed by the sounds of doors slamming, chairs moving across the floor, and dogs barking.
- Analog Programmable — A computer is used to make individual adjustments in the amplification pattern. The user has a choice between different pre–set programs for different listening environments. In the example above, high frequency speech sounds can be amplified more than lower frequency sounds such as dogs barking. Additional features may include directional microphones and a telecoil (T–coil) (see below).
- Digital Programmable — These hearing aids contain a minute digital chip that is adjusted by computer. Digital aids have the most adjustability of any hearing aid, and accommodate multiple settings for the user to choose based on the listening environment. Directional microphones and t–coils are also available.
People who have worn analog hearing aids for many years may require an adjustment period when switching to digital hearing aids. This is due to the brain’s accommodation to amplified sound and the difference in the way digital amplification is perceived.
A Word about T–coils:
While hearing aids may greatly improve a user’s ability to hear, there are some situations where additional amplification is desirable. A telecoil, also called a t–coil, will increase a hearing aid’s functionality with assistive listening devices and telephones. A switch on the hearing aid allows this feature to be turned on and off. Assistive Listening equipment, used in combination with a t–coil equipped hearing aid, can feed amplified sound directly into the user’s individually adjusted hearing aid. Please see the section on Hearing Assistive Technology for more information.
Who is the prospective user?
An adult or child with hearing loss, who has sufficient residual hearing may benefit from the use of hearing aids.
The U. S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates the sale of hearing aids, and publishes an excellent website with information about how to obtain a hearing aid, how to ensure a potential source is reputable and where one can make a complaint if there is a problem:
For more information on Hearing Aids:
American Academy of Audiology:
American Speech–Language–Hearing Association:
Hearing Loss Association of America: