How Hearing Aids Work
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, only 20% of people who would actually benefit from a hearing aid actually use one! While much of this can be attributed to social stigmas of hearing aids, many people do not understand how hearing aids work.
Even so, hearing loss can cause a range of problems, including psychological and cognitive deficits. However, the best way to keep your mind sharp and prevent current hearing loss from worsening is to have early treatment through a hearing screening and hearing aids. Lets take a closer look at how hearing aids work and a few questions you should ask to know if you may be well served by hearing aids.
How Do Hearing Aids Work
Someone says hello
We hear the hello
A microphone picks up the sound and converts it into an electrical/digital signal.
An amplifier increases the strength of that signal. In more sophisticated devices, the signal is manipulated by advanced processing.
A receiver/speaker converts it back into sound and sends it to the inner ear. The brain hears and understands the sound as speech.
Digital makes a difference
The advent of digital signal processing revolutionized hearing aids, enabling scientists and manufacturers to write smart software and develop sophisticated algorithms that lead to new benefits such as:
- Improved speech understanding in noisy environments
- Increased gain without feedback
- Enhanced listening comfort and speech perception
- Ability to shape instrument settings to match the specific wearer’s hearing needs
- More precise directional capabilities
Tips To Choose The Best Hearing Aid For You
Now that you know more about hearing aid technology, lets share some of the best tips to help find the right hearing aid for you.
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Hearing Aid Settings Can Have Custom Programs Added To Them
Wear your hearing aids according to the instructions of your hearing healthcare professional and keep them informed of any challenges you encounter along the way. Normally, hearing aids are programmed to pick up speech in quiet environments, but out in the real world, you may want to have more options. Fortunately, hearing aid providers can set up many custom hearing aid settings for you, including music settings.
How Can Hearing Aids Help
Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. The damage can occur as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicines.
A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The greater the damage to a persons hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, and the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference. However, there are practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. In addition, if the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, a hearing aid would be ineffective.
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Wearing A Hearing Aid
Once the hearing aids have been fitted for the ears, your child should begin to slowly wear the hearing aid. Hearing aids dont restore normal hearing. So it may take time to get used to the different sounds transmitted by the device. Follow these tips when your child is starting to wear hearing aids:
In an age-appropriate way, explain the hearing aid to your child and how it will help. Give your child time to ask questions.
Be patient and give your child time to get used to the hearing aid and the sound it makes.
Start using the hearing aid in quiet areas. Then slowly build up to noisier places.
Experiment to see where and when the hearing aid works best for your child.
Keep a record of any questions and concerns that you or your child have. Bring this to your child’s follow-up exam.
Why Should I Buy Hearing Aids
Hearing loss can happen at any age, but its incredibly common in adults age 65 and older. If youre among the one-third of adults over 65 with hearing loss, you may find it hard to understand your friends and family. Many people with hearing loss tend to avoid challenging listening environments like restaurants where theres a lot of background noise, and some stop spending as much time talking with friends and loved ones.
Hearing aids are a tool you can use to improve your hearing and regain parts of life that youve been missing. While a hearing aid wont fully restore your hearing, it can enhance your quality of life, helping improve your conversational abilities while enhancing the sound quality from music, TV, and other audio sources.
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Tips To Choose The Best Hearing Aid
- Vanessa Caceres
- One Comment
Do you think that you need a hearing aid? Sometimes, the need for a hearing aid may not be obvious, but your partner may tell you that you should get one. Youre not alone. About one in three people between ages 65 and 74 have hearing loss and half of those age 75 and older have trouble hearing, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders . If you fall into these statistics, its understandable that you want to find the best hearing aid possible.
Hearing loss is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer and is the third most common physical condition in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Age-related hearing loss often happens because of changes to the inner ear or middle ear. It also can occur because of changes on nerve pathways that connect the ear to the brain, NIDOC reports. Other things that can affect hearing loss include:
- The use of certain medications, such as some chemotherapy drugs
- Long-term exposure to loud noise
- High blood pressure
Hearing loss tends to occur equally in both ears. It is also more prevalent in men than women, although both sexes experience hearing loss with age.
Hearing loss isnt something you should ignore. It can have some negative health effects, including:
When you lose hearing, parts of your brain associated with auditory processing often will become smaller.
How Should We Care For Hearing Aids
Follow the care and cleaning instructions that came with the hearing aid. Be sure to:
- Clean off any earwax on the earmold. Wipe it off with a soft cloth or tissue or use the cleaning tool it came with. Dont wipe a hearing aid with anything rough.
- Keep the hearing aid dry.
- Check the battery with a battery tester. Replace the battery if it is running low. Store batteries in a safe place so young children cant get to them. Button batteries can cause serious injuries if swallowed.
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Basic Hearing Aid Components
As mentioned, all hearing aids have the same 4 basic components: microphones, an amplifier, a receiver, and a battery.
Sounds simple, right? But a lot happens in those 4 little parts in addition to some other components that can be involved.
Tuning In To Hearing Aid Types
Digital hearing aids come in five major styles and are categorized by where on or in the ear theyre worn. In spring 2018 we asked more than 122,000 Consumer Reports members about their experiences with hearing loss and hearing aids. The majority of the hearing aids were mini-behind-the-ear types.
Mini-Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aid This type goes by various names, including receiver-in-the-canal , receiver-in-the-ear , receiver-in-the-aid , and canal receiver technology . Here, the receiver is inside the ear canal. It attaches to the ear via a thin wire and a custom-made earmold , or a noncustom dome-style ear-canal piece.
Pros: Comfortable, barely visible. Prevents a plugged-up feeling . Larger versions are easy to insert.
Cons: Wax and moisture buildup may limit the life of the receiver. Does not allow for significant amplification, especially in the low frequencies.
Traditional Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aid In this group of aids, which sometimes includes RITA hearing aids, all electronic components are in the plastic case worn behind the ear. Sound is sent to the ear through the tubing that connects the case to the receiver and a custom earmold worn in the ear canal.
Cons: Some custom molds are visible. Vulnerable to sweat and wax buildup, but the tubing and mold are easily cleaned. The earmold must fit snugly and fill the entire ear canal, which can cause a plugged-up feeling.
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What Are Some Features For Hearing Aids
Hearing aids have optional features that can be built in to assist in different communication situations. For example:
The more complicated features may allow the hearing aids to best meet your particular pattern of hearing loss. They may improve their performance in specific listening situations however, these sophisticated electronics may significantly add to the cost of the hearing aid as well.
History Of Hearing Aids
Even before the advent of modern electronics, people who were partially deaf or hard of hearing used tools to amplify sounds. The simplest tool, the ear trumpet or horn, was a funnel-shaped implement that people inserted into their ears to improve their ability to hear. The large mouth of the funnel collected sound waves from the environment and channelled them into a person’s ear.
French Jesuit priest and mathematician Jean Leurechon was the first person to describe the ear trumpet in 1634 in his work “Recreations Mathématiques,” wrote Max Valentinuzzi, a professor emeritus with the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán in Argentina, in a paper published in journal IEEE. By the end of the 1700s, ear trumpets were commonplace, according to Valentinuzzi.
But the invention of the telephone presaged the hearing aid revolution, Valentinuzzi continued. In 1870, Thomas Edison developed the carbon transmitter for his telephone, which amplified electric signals and increased the resulting sound’s volume.
In 1898, American electrical engineer Miller Reese Hutchison used a carbon transmitter to build a portable amplifier. His invention “the akouphone” was the first dedicated electric hearing aid.
By 1920, said the Kent State University Hearing Aid Museum, hearing aid makers were experimenting with vacuum tubes instead of carbon transmitters as they were able to achieve a greater amplification. However, they were bulky and unwieldy.
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Other Considerations Digital Versus Analogue
While the time has really passed for analogue hearing aids, you should still understand the major problem with them: they amplify every sound in the environment equally. That means you hear the planes above, the din from the cars whizzing by, the sucking of the vacuum cleaner and the incessant barking of the neighbour’s dog all at the same volume you hear your grandchildren trying to tell you something.
You will be hard pressed to still find and purchase programmable analogue hearing aids which will allow you to change channels to adjust for different situations as per pre-programmed settings. Of course, the much simpler solution is to buy modern digital hearing aids which provide a much clearer and effective sound quality. The digital part of these hearing aids simply means that there is a computer chip inside which performs instant automatic analysis on both your level of hearing loss and the sounds coming in from the outside environment. They can then alter the sound in interesting and innovative ways to clear up the signal and reduce noise, before putting the sound back in your ears.
Digital hearing aids come with a slew of interesting features, but beware, there are only a few hearing aid features that actually make a big difference. Digital hearing aids also come with Bluetooth connectivity, which opens a world never even imagined with analogue hearing aids.
Ask About Hearing Loops
Hearing loops are becoming more common in auditoriums and venues across the country. If youre planning to attend an event at a venue that should have a hearing loop, call ahead and ask about hearing loops. You can even visit the venue ahead of time to test the hearing loop, and make sure the staff know how to turn on the hearing loop. Not only will this ensure that youll have a great experience, youll also be advocating for other hearing aid wearers, and make hearing loops the norm in all public spaces.
Have questions? Were here to help. Contact us today to learn more.
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The Hearing Aid Microphone
Sounds waves are actually vibrations of energy which are floating around in the air. Just as the waves you make in a pool diminish in power the further away they get from the source, the further away from the source sound waves get, the weaker they get. In order to make these vibrations louder again, a microphone must pick them up and convert them from the sound waves into electrical impulses or signals. In the best hearing aids, the microphone is ultra-tiny and close to the ear to pick up the sound vibrations in the environment exactly how your ear does. Modern hearing aids can have two microphones, designed to pick up speech in front of you better than the noise around you. This can help tremendously when it comes to hearing better in noise. Some can even wirelessly connect the microphones between the hearing aids on each of your ears, further improving your hearing in background noise.
Consider Financing For Upfront Savings
You might be wondering if there is financing for hearing aids. The answer depends on where you shop. Most in-person hearing clinics and online hearing aid companies provide financing, but Costco does not. If youd prefer to pay a monthly amount by using hearing aid financing, a hearing clinic or online direct-to-consumer brand like Lively or Eargo are excellent routes.
Dont Choose the Most Advanced Hearing Aids When we interviewed Tyler Bennett, a registered hearing aid dispenser with Hear4U and Hearing Aid Accessories, he recommended opting for less advanced models over premium hearing aids if you want to save money.
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Your Hearing Loss Has Changed
Patients go to their doctors with hearing aids that dont work only to find that the patient had not had a hearing test in years. Their hearing loss had become worse, and the hearing aids were no longer providing enough volume to make speech sounds audible. Sometimes, this is an easy fix and involves reprogramming the hearing aids to the new hearing loss. Other times, especially if has been more than five years, it is time for new hearing aids. Stay in touch with your audiologist and have your hearing tested yearly . This way, your hearing aids can be adjusted to the small changes in your hearing and can keep you hearing well.
Insurance Fsas And Hsas
A common question amongst new hearing aid shoppers is, does insurance cover hearing aids?
Unfortunately, most insurance providers dont cover the cost of hearing aids. However, its always worth checking with your insurance company to be sure. Many cover the cost of a hearing exam by an audiologist, and Medicaid does provide some coverage for people 21 years and younger. Additionally, some Medicare supplement plans offer discounts.
Even if your insurance provider doesnt offer financial help, you may still find savings by using the funds in a flexible spending account or health savings account . Both an FSA and HSA allow you to purchase hearing aids with tax-deferred funds. You sign up for an FSA through your employer, while an HSA is only available to people with a high-deductible health plan .
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Why Do Hearing Aids Cost So Much
You expect to pay large sums of money when buying the newest iPhone, tablet, or laptop, because every year, tech companies pour millions of dollars into innovations that provide improved battery life or other conveniences in a smaller package. Its no different with hearing aids.
Hearing devices are advanced pieces of technology. As Michelle Matyko, an audiologist with Roosevelt Field Hearing, explained, there are many different levels of technology that can go into a hearing aid. Its not what the hearing aid looks like but how advanced the computer is inside. The higher the technology is, the harder the hearing aid works for you in challenging listening environments.
Leading brands like Phonak, Oticon, and Resound have in-house researchers that continuously look to improve their hearing aids, whether thats by creating clearer, more natural sound or by adding in wireless connectivity via Bluetooth. So if you want the best sound, smallest size, or most advanced wireless features, you may find yourself buying the newest hearing aids from these innovative brands.
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