Discover how hearing aids can help patients hear and interpret sounds.
Any type of permanent hearing loss can have a big impact on quality of life and daily functioning. For approximately 90 percent of people with hearing loss, hearing aids can make a big difference if the right type is selected. Hearing aids commonly used today are designed to be as “invisible” as possible. These battery-powered devices can be worn behind or in the ear.
- Their general purpose is to amplify sounds and improve the way tones and sounds are heard and interpreted
- While not everyone will benefit from a hearing aid, only one out of every five people who would actually benefit from such devices wear them
How Hearing Aids Work
While design is different with each type of hearing aid, they all function in the same way in terms of how hearing is improved. A microphone detects sounds within your environment, an amplifier makes those sounds louder, and a receiver transmits those sounds into the right parts of the ear.
Popular Hearing Aid Features
There is no one-size-fits-all hearing aid. The one that’s appropriate will depend on a patient’s type of hearing loss and lifestyle preferences. For example, individuals normally in outdoor environments are likely to benefit more from a device that’s better at separating sounds from multiple sources and directions. Common hearing aid features include:
- Cancellation of unwanted feedback
- Bluetooth connectivity and wireless technology
- Remote control and adjustment
- Microphone systems that help with hearing from different directions
- An assortment of listening programs
Custom and Non-Custom Hearing Aids
Hearing aids can be basic models that are designed for use by any patient with certain types of hearing loss. Other devices are customized to the specific needs of the wearer. There are four main types of hearing aids, three of which are considered custom hearing aids. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are the ones considered non-custom or standard. However, even BTE devices can be adjusted to the needs of the wearer.
The smallest possible hearing aids available are those that are designed to fit completely in the ear canal. These devices are usually recommended for people with mild-to-severe hearing loss. Users need to have fairly good dexterity to take them out for cleaning and battery changes. Some features may not be available with CIC hearing aids.
Devices with this design rest in the lower portion of the outer ear, but not entirely in the ear canal. They are often easier to manipulate for wearers with mild-to-moderate-severe hearing loss. ITC hearing aids have more options with programming than CIC devices.
Also referred to as “full shell” hearing aids, ITE devices fit within the ear. Such devices offer a broader assortment of features and programming options. This design is typically recommended for patients experiencing mild-to-severe hearing loss.
The design most people associate with hearing aids, BTE devices attach to the ear. These devices are molded to fit the wearer’s ear shape. An assortment of styles and features are available with these hearing aids. BTE devices correct all degrees of hearing loss.
Hearing Aid Technology That May Benefit Patients
Hearing aids today come in more varied designs and styles than what was available even a decade or so ago due to advances in technology. Whether worn in one or both ears, hearing aids can be either basic, advanced, superior, or premium in terms of the technology used in their design. The level of technology required will depend on what a patient can afford along with factors such as:
- Typical exposure to background noises
- A patient’s degree of activity
- Patients habits with regards to hobbies, daily routines, and occupational needs
What to Expect with Hearing Aids
Hearing aids may not fully restore hearing capabilities. It’s best for patients to ask questions, gather information, and have realistic expectations when getting evaluated and fitted for a device to improve their ability to hear. The role of an audiologist is to help patients choose a hearing aids likely to have a positive impact on their quality of life.
Hearing aids are generally for people with damage affecting the inner ear or the nerve connecting the ear to the part of the brain responsible for interpreting sound. Improvements experienced with any hearing aid will vary. Factors that determine results typically include the degree and type of hearing loss. It’s equally important for patients to stick to an appropriate wearing schedule and follow usage guidelines to enjoy the best possible benefits from a hearing aid. Settings also need to be correctly adjusted and the device will need to be properly maintained (e.g., cleaning parts, changing batteries) so it functions as intended.