What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.

 

A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.

 

How can hearing aids help?

Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. The damage can occur as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicines.

 

A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The greater the damage to a person’s hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, and the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference. However, there are practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. In addition, if the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, a hearing aid would be ineffective.


How can I find out if I need a hearing aid?

If you think you might have hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid, visit your Audiologist, Primary Care Physician, or Otolaryngologist.  An Audiologist is a hearing health professional who identifies and measures hearing loss and will perform a hearing evaluation to assess the type and degree of loss.  An Otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders and will investigate the cause of the hearing loss.

 

Are there different styles of hearing aids?

There are three basic styles of hearing aids. The styles differ by size, their placement on or inside the ear, and the degree to which they amplify sound.

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids consist of a case worn behind the ear and connected to a customized earmold that fits inside the outer ear. The electronic parts are held in the small case behind the ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear. BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss.

    A new kind of BTE aid is an open-fit hearing aid. Small, open-fit aids fit behind the ear completely, with only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal, enabling the canal to remain open. For this reason, open-fit hearing aids may be a good choice for people who experience a buildup of earwax, since this type of aid is less likely to be damaged by such substances. In addition, some people may prefer the open-fit hearing aid because their perception of their voice does not sound “plugged up.”
  • In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear and are used for mild to severe hearing loss. The case holding the electronic components is made of hard plastic. Some ITE aids may have certain added features installed, such as a telecoil, a small magnetic coil that makes it easier to hear conversations over the telephone.
  • Canal aids fit into the ear canal and are available in two styles. The in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid is made to fit the size and shape of a person’s ear canal. A completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid is nearly hidden in the ear canal.

Do all hearing aids work the same way?

Hearing aids work differently depending on the electronics used. The two main types of electronics are analog and digital.

 

Analog hearing aids are less commonly used today due to the advances in hearing instrument technology.

 

Digital aids convert sound waves into numerical codes, similar to the binary code of a computer, before amplifying them. Because the code also includes information about a sound’s pitch or loudness, the aid can be specially programmed to amplify some frequencies more than others. Digital circuitry gives an Audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the aid to a user’s needs and to certain listening environments. These aids also can be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a specific direction. Digital circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids.

 

Advances in digital hearing technology have resulted in significant improvements in noise reduction which allows improved hearing performance in challenging listening environments.

 

Continued development in digital technology has permitted direct interface with FM, wireless, and Bluetooth.

 

Which hearing aid will work best for me?

The hearing aid that will work best for you depends on the kind and severity of your hearing loss. If you have a hearing loss in both of your ears, two hearing aids are generally recommended because two aids provide a more natural signal to the brain. Hearing in both ears also will help you understand speech and locate where the sound is coming from.

 

A hearing aid will not restore your normal hearing. With practice, however, a hearing aid will increase your awareness of sounds and their sources. You will want to wear your hearing aid regularly, so select one that is convenient and easy for you to use. Other features to consider include parts or services covered by the warranty, estimated schedule and costs for maintenance and repair, options and upgrade opportunities, and the hearing aid company’s reputation for quality and customer service.

 

What questions should I ask before buying a hearing aid?

Before you buy a hearing aid, ask your Audiologist these important questions:

  • What features would be most useful to me?
  • Is there an adjustment period to test the hearing aids?
  • How long is the warranty? Can it be extended? Does the warranty cover future maintenance and repairs?
  • Can the Audiologist make adjustments and provide servicing and minor repairs?
  • What instruction does the Audiologist provide?

 

How can I adjust to my hearing aid?

Wearing your aids regularly will help you adjust to them.

Become familiar with your hearing aid’s features. With your Audiologist present, practice putting in and taking out the aid, cleaning it, identifying right and left aids, and replacing the batteries.

 

How can I care for my hearing aid?

Proper maintenance and care will extend the life of your hearing aid. Make it a habit to: 

  • Keep hearing aids away from heat and moisture.
  • Clean hearing aids as instructed. Earwax and ear drainage can damage a hearing aid.
  • Avoid using hairspray or other hair care products while wearing hearing aids.
  • Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
  • Replace dead batteries immediately.
  • Keep replacement batteries and small aids away from children and pets.

 

Are new types of aids available?

A bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is a small device that attaches to the bone behind the ear. The device transmits sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through the skull, bypassing the middle ear. BAHAs are generally used by individuals with middle ear problems or deafness in one ear. Because surgery is required to implant either of these devices, many hearing specialists feel that the benefits may not outweigh the risks.

 

Can I obtain financial assistance for a hearing aid?

Hearing aids are sometimes covered by health insurance companies.

 

Medicare does not cover hearing aids for adults at this time; however, diagnostic evaluations are covered if they are ordered by a physician for the purpose of assisting the physician in developing a treatment plan. Since Medicare has declared the BAHA a prosthetic device and not a hearing aid, Medicare will cover the BAHA if other coverage policies are met.

 

What research is being done on hearing aids?

Researchers are looking at ways to apply new signal processing strategies to the design of hearing aids. Signal processing is the method used to modify normal sound waves into amplified sound that is the best possible match to the remaining hearing for a hearing aid user. NIDCD-funded researchers also are studying how hearing aids can enhance speech signals to improve understanding.

 

In addition, researchers are investigating the use of computer-aided technology to design and manufacture better hearing aids. Researchers also are seeking ways to improve sound transmission and to reduce noise interference and feedback. Additional studies focus on the best ways to select and fit hearing aids in children and other groups.

 

Another promising research focus is to use lessons learned from animal models to design better microphones for hearing aids. NIDCD-supported scientists are studying the tiny fly Ormia ochracea because its ear structure allows the fly to determine the source of a sound easily. Scientists are using the fly’s ear structure as a model for designing miniature directional microphones for hearing aids. These microphones amplify the sound coming from a particular direction (usually the direction a person is facing), but not the sounds that arrive from other directions. Directional microphones hold great promise for making it easier for people to hear a single conversation, even when surrounded by other noises and voices.

Where to Find Us:

 

Audiology & Hearing Services of Longmeadow

Williams Place

813 Williams Street

Suite 202A

Longmeadow, MA 01106


Phone: (413) 565-4443

Fax: (413) 565-4445

audiologyhearing@msn.com

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