Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Most are simply too lengthy or complicated, resulting in more confusion instead of less.

My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and more interested in obtaining the best technology at a reasonable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll enjoy this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Choosing a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly endless factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it seems. As you move through this guide, bear in mind that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:

  1. The microphone registers external sound and sends it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor adjusts the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker presents the enhanced sound to the ear, producing 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 essential ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll cover 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 sit behind the ear. The case is then connected to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are easy to handle and clean, typically have a longer battery life, and can manage severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the exterior part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but larger than the in-the-canal styles. This renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less visible than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely within the ear canal, which makes them almost or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some types can be used for several months at a time.

When deciding on a style, think about the tradeoffs among user-friendliness, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and identify the most appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve settled upon the right style, you can determine which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones permit you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while lessening the disruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while reducing the static induced by by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based on your environment, for instance in a tranquil room at home versus in a busy restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as TVs, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones transforms your hearing aids into high-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from the phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning systems, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you decide on which hearing aid accessories you may need or want.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids

Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient experience can examine your hearing properly, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your selection of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two aspects with your hearing expert and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Develop a budget. Some would state that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing professional can find the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
  4. Test drive your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to set realistic expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to perform well. Your perseverance will be paid back when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What might appear to be a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and limit your choices. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start taking pleasure in all of the advantages of better hearing.

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