Here’s what you need to know about hearing aids
Hearing Aid Basics
A hearing aid is a small electronic device worn in or behind your ear that makes some sounds louder, making it easier for the user to communicate and participate in daily activities. All hearing aids have three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The microphone receives sounds, which are converted to electrical signals and sent to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the signal power, which is finally sent to the ear through a speaker.
Although all hearing aids have the same basic components, the way the components are assembled varies significantly. Some hearing aid styles fit completely in the wearer’s ear, while others are worn over or behind the ear. The style of hearing aid selected is based on a review of the patient’s hearing evaluation, lifestyle, activity level, dexterity, and personal preference. There is typically very little difference in cost between styles.
Hearing Aid Styles
Custom Hearing Aids
Custom hearing aids fit completely in the patient’s ear. The hearing aid components are housed within an acrylic shell, molded to the wearer’s ear using a cast of the ear canal and outer ear made by the audiologist. Custom hearing aids range in size from the tiny completely-in-the-canal style, to larger full shell models. Custom hearing aids are easy to use with a telephone and offer the convenience of having all of the hearing aid components housed within the ear.
Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Hearing Aids
CIC hearing aids are most suitable for patients with mild to moderate hearing loss, though there are options available for patients with severe hearing loss. CIC hearing aids are cosmetically appealing, but work best for users with good dexterity and vision, as the components and batteries are very small. CIC hearing aids also lack directional microphones, a technology that has been proven to enhance speech understanding in the presence of background noise.
In-the-Canal or Half Shell (ITC / HS) Hearing Aids
ITC or HS hearing aids are larger than CIC hearing aids, and fit into the lower portion of the bowl of your ear (called the concha). ITC or HS hearing aids are suitable for patients with mild to moderately severe hearing loss, usually have directional microphones for improved speech understanding in background noise, and often have options for volume control wheels. These hearing aids use larger batteries than CIC aids, and are usually easier to manipulate.
In-the-Ear or Full Shell (ITE / FS) Hearing Aids
ITE or FS hearing aids are the largest custom made hearing aids available, and fill the entire bowl of the patient’s ear (called the concha). ITE or FS aids are appropriate for patients with mild to severe hearing losses, use larger batteries than CIC or ITC styles, and are an excellent choice for patients who have poor dexterity and reduced vision.
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids
BTE hearing aids are worn either on top of or behind the patient’s ear. For traditional BTE hearing aids, the components are housed entirely outside of the ear and the sound is delivered to the ear using a custom-made earmold or non-custom tubing. More recently, receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) models have become very popular. In this style, the speaker is worn in the patient’s ear, and the microphone and amplifier are housed in the device that sits on the outer ear. Nonetheless, all BTE hearing aids have components that are worn on the ear. BTE hearing aids are generally more durable than custom, in-the-ear styles, and are also usually more powerful. Like custom hearing aid styles, BTEs range in size and shape and are generally very cosmetically pleasing.
Receiver-in-the-Canal (RIC) or Receiver-in-the-Ear (RITE) Hearing Aids
RIC or RITE hearing aids are hearing aids that fit behind the patient’s ear. This style of aid is appropriate for patients with mild to severe hearing loss. Unlike traditional BTE aids, the speaker fits inside the patient’s ear, reducing the size behind-the-ear components. This makes the hearing aid more lightweight and discrete. For patients with mild to moderate hearing loss, RIC or RITE hearing aids are thought to be the most comfortable style of hearing aid, because the size of the components inside of the ear is usually very small. For patients with more severe hearing loss, a custom made earmold can be used to deliver sound to the ear. The tubing for RIC or RITE hearing aids is much slimmer than the traditional BTE hearing aid tubing.
Traditional Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Hearing Aids
Traditional BTE hearing aids are worn behind the patient’s ear, and the electronic components are housed completely outside of the ear. BTE hearing aids vary in size from very small mini BTE styles to larger, more powerful units. BTE aids are now available in fully waterproof models, and sportsman-designed models that are dust and dirt-proof. BTE aids are suitable for patients with mild to severe hearing losses.
Hearing Aid Accessories
One of the most exciting advances in the world of hearing devices is the advent of wireless technology. Through wireless transmission, hearing aid wearers are able to connect their devices to cell phones, TVs, mp3 players, computers, companion-worn microphones, and a host of bluetooth-capable products. This technology essentially turns your hearing aid into a wireless headset, streaming sound directly from the device to your ear. Not only is wireless hearing aid technology trendy and “cool”, it has also been proven to be a more efficient way of transmitting phone signals. Wireless technology is now available with almost all styles of hearing aids, and is compatible with even the most basic technology levels.
Remote controls allow the user to control the hearing device without touching the device itself. Remote controls are a great option for patients who want the small size of a CIC hearing aid, but who also want to be able to control the hearing aid volume and program setting. Remote controls can be very sophisticated devices that are the size of an average cell phone, or may be very simplistic in nature and carried on a keychain.
How do I know if I need a hearing aid?
A comprehensive hearing test is an important first step toward determining if you need a hearing aid. Our team will discuss the results of testing with you and recommend a treatment plan, which may or may not include a hearing aid.
Who can benefit from a hearing aid?
Modern hearing aids are not the same as the ones your grandfather wore! Digital processing, Bluetooth capability, wireless connectivity and miniature technology are just a few of the technical advances that have allowed hearing aids to connect more individuals with the world around them. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that hearing aids are only useful for people with severe hearing loss. Even those with mild hearing loss can benefit from current technology.
How does a hearing aid work?
Today’s hearing aids are actually tiny computers, capable of split-second sound adjustments to deliver the clearest speech signal possible. New technology allows the hearing aids to monitor your environment and automatically switch between listening programs. Your audiologist will program your hearing aids according to your hearing loss and your individual listening needs. Due to the increased flexibility in a hearing aid’s computer chip, it can be reprogrammed if your hearing loss changes, or adjusted for greater listening comfort.
What is a hearing aid consultation?
We consider our free hearing aid consultation as an opportunity to educate you about the latest hearing aid technology. During the appointment we will help match you and your lifestyle with the appropriate hearing aid style and technology. We will listen to your questions and concerns to help ensure that the best selection is made. Depending on your specific hearing loss, a demonstration of new hearing aids or Bluetooth technology may be performed. Bluetooth technology enables devices such as portable computers, cell phones, and televisions to connect to the hearing aid.
Who will conduct my hearing aid consultation?
You will be working with an American Board of Audiology (ABA) certified Doctor of Audiology, not a hearing aid dispenser, during your consultation. The difference between the educational requirements of board certified audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists, a.k.a. hearing aid dispensers, can be as much as six or seven years. Our audiologists do not work on commission, and only have your best interest in mind when recommending a device.
How much does a hearing aid cost?
Hearing aid prices vary considerably depending on complexity, ranging from an inexpensive analog “amplifier” aid to a highly sophisticated digital hearing aid. Hearing aids may look similar on the outside (i.e., style of the aid), but have very different processing systems on the inside. It is the internal circuitry, not the outside appearance of the device, which typically determines cost. There is a hearing aid that will fit every budget – and the most expensive option isn’t necessarily the best choice for every person. Our ABA certified audiologists will help you select the most appropriate aid while remaining within your budget. We make it our business to ensure that our hearing aids are VERY competitively priced.