Hearing Loss

Hearing Aids

How Hearing Aids Work

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 four 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.

Types of Hearing Aids

There are a number of different types of hearing aids to treat different kinds of hearing loss. Choosing one will depend on the kind of hearing loss you have, you lifestyle, and your own preferences.

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids consist of a hard plastic case worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic earmold that fits inside the outer ear. The electronic parts are held in the case behind the ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear.
  • Open-fit hearing aids fit completely behind the ear with only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal. This lets the ear canal remain open.
  • In-the-ear hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear. The case holding the electronic components is made of hard plastic.
  • Canal hearing aids fit into the ear canal and are available in two styles. The in-the-canal hearing aid is made to fit the size and shape of your ear canal. A completely-in-canal hearing aid is nearly hidden in the ear canal.

Choosing a Hearing Aid

An audiologist or hearing aid specialist can help you determine if a hearing aid, or even two hearing aids, is the right treatment for you. Wearing two hearing aids may help balance sounds, improve your understanding of words in noisy situations, and make it easier to locate the source of sounds.

You and your audiologist should select a hearing aid that best suits your needs and lifestyle. Price is also a key consideration because hearing aids range from hundreds to several thousand dollars. Style and features also affect cost. However, don’t use price alone to determine the best hearing aid for you. Just because one hearing aid is more expensive than another does not necessarily mean that it will better suit your needs.

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 choose 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.

Learn about financial assistance for hearing aids, including Medicare coverage.

Questions To Ask

Before you buy a hearing aid, ask your audiologist these important questions.

  • What features would be most useful to me?
  • What is the total cost of the hearing aid? Do the benefits of newer technologies outweigh the higher costs?
  • Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids? (Most manufacturers allow a 30- to 60-day trial period during which aids can be returned for a refund; this trial period is often required by state law.) What fees are nonrefundable if the aids are returned after the trial period?
  • 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? Will loaner aids be provided when repairs are needed?
  • What instruction does the audiologist provide?

Caring for Your 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.

Learn how to adjust to wearing a hearing aid.

New Types of Hearing Implants

Like the hearing aids described above, implantable hearing aids make sounds louder so that people with hearing loss can listen, communicate and participate more fully in daily life. These devices are designed to help increase the transmission of sound vibrations entering the inner ear.

Two examples of implantable devices are the middle ear implant (MEI) and the bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). An (MEI) is a small device that is attached to one of the bones of the middle ear. Rather than amplifying the sound traveling to the eardrum, an MEI moves these bones directly. The bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is a small device that attaches to the skull 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 people with middle ear problems or deafness in one ear.

Both techniques have the net result of strengthening sound vibrations entering the inner ear so that they can be detected by individuals with sensorineural hearing loss.

Learn more about research being done on hearing aids.