Have you ever had trouble hearing in a congested room or restaurant but can hear without any problem at home? Do you have particular difficulty hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?
If so, you might have hearing loss, and hearing aids may be able to help you.
But how exactly do hearing aids work? Are they simple amplifiers, or something more elaborate?
This week we’ll be looking at how hearing aids work and how they are a great deal more advanced than many people realize. But first, let’s begin with how normal hearing works.
How Normal Hearing Works
The hearing process begins with sound. Sound is essentially a kind of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a pond. Things produce sound in the environment when they generate vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are ultimately caught and transmitted to the ear canal by the outer ear.
Immediately after passing through the ear canal, the sound vibrations hit the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates, amplifying the original signal which is then transferred by the middle ear bones to the snail-shaped organ of the middle ear named the cochlea.
The cochlea is filled with fluid and tiny nerve cells called cilia. The vibrations transported from the middle ear bones stir the fluid and stimulate the cilia. The cilia then conduct electrical signals to the brain and the brain interprets those signals as sound.
With most cases of noise-induced hearing loss, there is injury to the cilia. As a consequence, the incoming signal to the brain is compromised and sounds appear softer or muffled. But not all frequencies are equally impaired. Usually, the higher-pitched sounds, including speech, are affected to a greater extent.
In a noisy setting, like a restaurant, your capacity to hear speech is diminished because your brain is acquiring a diminished signal for high-frequency sounds. Simultaneously, background noise, which is low-frequency, is getting through normally, drowning out the speech.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
You can see that the solution is not simply amplifying all sound. If you were to do that, you’d just continue to drown out speech as the background noise becomes louder relative to the speech sounds.
The solution is selective amplification of only the sound frequencies you have a hard time hearing. And that is only possible by having your hearing professionally evaluated and your hearing aids professionally programmed to enhance these specific frequencies.
How Hearing Aids Selectively Amplify Sound
Contemporary hearing aids consist of five interior parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just ordinary amplifiers—they’re sophisticated electronic devices that alter the attributes of sound.
This happens by way of the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is unique, like a fingerprint, and therefore the frequencies you need amplified will differ. The extraordinary part is, those frequencies can be identified precisely with a professional hearing test, known as an audiogram.
Once your hearing professional has these numbers, your hearing aid can be programmed to enhance the frequencies you have the most trouble with, improving upon speech recognition in the process.
Here’s how it works: the hearing aid receives sound in the environment with the microphone and delivers the sound to the computer chip. The computer chip then converts the sound into digital information so that it can differentiate between assorted frequencies.
Then, depending on the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are amplified, the low-frequency background sounds are subdued, and the refined sound is transported to your ear via the speaker.
So will your hearing revert completely to normal?
While your hearing will not completely go back to normal, that shouldn’t prevent you from accomplishing substantial gains in your hearing. For nearly all people, the amplification delivered is all they need to comprehend speech and participate in effective and effortless communication.
Think about it this way. If your eye doctor told you they could improve your vision from 20/80 to 20/25, would you go without prescription glasses because you couldn’t get to 20/20? Of course not; you’d be able to function just fine with 20/25 vision and the improvement from 20/80 would be enormous.
Are you ready to find out the improvements you can achieve with modern hearing aids? Give us a call today!