According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 36 million Americans experience hearing loss, and about 90 percent of them can be treated with hearing aids. If you suspect you may have a hearing loss, our audiologists at NHHI will assess your needs and determine if hearing aids would be right for you, and if so, you will be fitted with the best that technology has to offer.
How Does a Hearing Aid Work?
There are three basic parts to a hearing aid: a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. A hearing aid picks up sound using 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 Does a Digital Hearing Aid Work?
A digital hearing aid uses digital sound technology to improve hearing aid performance. It converts sound waves into digital binary code (0’s and 1’s), which helps to produce an exact duplication of each sound. It also uses computer chips to analyze speech and other sounds, allowing for more complex processing of sounds during amplification.
With the advancement of digital technology, manufacturers have enhanced the functionality of the hearing device, offering patients several benefits, such as
- It can be programmed with noise reduction algorithms to help reduce background noise;
- It is highly programmable for various listening environments; and
- It can be adjusted to meet specific user needs.
Are There Different Styles of Hearing Aids?
Thanks to advancements in digital technology and miniaturization of the internal components, hearing aids are available in many different sizes and styles. Many of today’s hearing aids are considered sleek, compact, and innovative – offering solutions to many hearing aid wearers.
Additionally, a wide range of technology and a host of features are available in each hearing aid style. The cost of hearing aids generally depends on the technology and the number of features the instrument has, not necessarily on the style selected. Today’s digital hearing aid styles are typically offered at various levels, such as basic, entry, advanced, and premium. Within each level, different technology and features are available.
Generally, basic digital hearing aid styles require the wearer to make some manual adjustments in certain listening environments. For example, they may need to turn a volume control up or push a button to change listening programs. In contrast, a premium or more advanced hearing aid responds automatically to changes in the listener’s environment, making changes based on the signals detected by the hearing aid. The hearing aid wearer is not required to make any manual changes. As the level of technology increases in hearing aids, so does the availability of advanced features. Examples of some of the advanced features found in today’s digital hearing aid styles are described below.
Hearing aids worn in the ear are usually custom-fit, based on a cast or impression of the ear. They’re available in different skin tones to camouflage with the outer ear. There are several styles – each is listed below, ranging from smallest to largest.
- Invisible-in-The-Canal (IIC)
The smallest custom style, IIC instruments sit invisibly in or past the second bend of the ear canal. IIC devices are specifically designed for mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
- Completely-in-Canal (CIC)
The smallest custom style, CIC instruments fit deeply and entirely within the ear canal. They fit mild-to-moderate hearing losses and offer high cosmetic appeal, as they’re nearly invisible when worn.
- In-the-Canal (ITC)
ITC instruments sit in the lower portion of the outer ear bowl, making them comfortable and easy to use. Because they’re slightly larger than CIC models, they have longer battery life and can host additional features, such as directional microphones for better understanding in noisy environments and controls (like volume controls). They can assist with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
- Full Shell or In the Ear (ITE)
Full-shell models sit flush within the outer ear bowl. Their size allows the maximum number of additional controls and features, such as directional microphones, which require space on the outer portion of the instrument. They use a larger battery size than the smaller styles and can fit a larger receiver with enough power for even severe hearing loss. Because of their flexibility, they’re widely recommended for mild-to-severe hearing loss.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) models sit behind or on top of the outer ear, with tubing that routes sounds down into the ear that connects to an ear tip or earmold to secure them in the ear canal. BTEs come in colors to blend with hair or skin tones, and even chrome colors, leopard print, and other funky designs to suit personal styles. Different BTE sizes accommodate different features, controls, battery types, and degrees of power (larger instruments generally have more power than smaller ones). While many people choose discreet BTEs that are unnoticeable when worn, others are tempted to show off the cool designs.
- Mini Behind-the-Ear (BTE) with Slim Tube and Tip
Mini BTEs are designed to hide behind the outer ear and have ultra-thin tubing to discreetly route sound into the ear. The tubing connects to a soft tip that sits in the ear canal but doesn’t occlude it. The result is a natural, open feeling as airflow and sound enter the ear naturally around the tip, while amplified sound enters through the tip. This is known as “open fitting” and is recommended for mild-to-moderate, high-frequency hearing loss.
- Receiver in Canal (RIC)
RIC models are mini BTEs that have the speaker of the instrument incorporated in the ear tip, instead of in the main body of the instrument. RIC instruments fit mild-to-severe hearing losses. This hearing aid style looks similar to the Mini BTE when worn on the ear.
- BTE with Earmold
BTEs with earmolds fit a variety of hearing losses, from mild to profound. Their longer shape follows the contour behind the outer ear and can house many features, including a program button and volume control. The earmold color and style, as well as the wearer’s hairstyle, determine exactly how they will look on each person.
Which Hearing Aid Style is Right For You?
When selecting a hearing aid style, our audiologists consider the following factors to ensure you get the right hearing aid for your needs:
- The degree of hearing loss (power requirements)
- Manual dexterity and visual abilities
- Patient budget
- Skin sensitivities
- Anatomical/medical considerations
How Can Hearing Aids Help?
Hearing aids help to improve hearing and speech comprehension for people who have a hearing loss. A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the hearing aid amplification needed.
Are You a Candidate for Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids are not for everyone. It usually depends on the type of hearing loss or the degree of hearing loss you may have as to whether or not a hearing aid will work for you. Most people who have a sensorineural hearing loss can greatly benefit from using hearing aids. A sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This damage often occurs as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicine. To learn more about the different types of hearing loss, click here.
How Can You Get Evaluated for a Hearing Aid?
If you suspect that you might need a hearing aid, you should schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists for a hearing evaluation. During your evaluation, a case history will be taken to determine the extent to which your hearing problem impacts your day-to-day life as well as the lives of your family members. Your audiologist will also review your medical history with you and ask you when and how your hearing loss started; if you have ringing in your ears (tinnitus); and if you experience dizziness.
The results from your hearing test will provide your audiologist with an outline of what sounds you may be missing or hearing. In addition, the personal answers about your daily life and your perception of your hearing will provide the basis for a more comprehensive hearing evaluation. You may be referred to a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear if you are a candidate for hearing aids or if there are other medical conditions your hearing professional thinks should be addressed before hearing aids are recommended. This referral is often the first step in the hearing aid examination.
If your hearing test reveals permanent hearing loss, your audiologist may recommend a hearing aid for one or both ears. He or she may explain what sounds you are not hearing and what a hearing aid (or hearing aids) can do to help. It is usually at this appointment that you will get to see and touch different styles of hearing aids. In some cases, you may even be able to listen to a hearing aid. Your hearing professional will help you choose the best hearing aid style, features, and level of sophistication based on your degree of hearing loss, your lifestyle, and your financial circumstances. However, the final decision regarding which hearing aid to purchase is yours.