All About Hearing Aids: Types, Features & Technologies
If you arrived at this article in hopes of understanding how hearing aids can help either you or a loved one, you have taken a great step in the right direction.
Even though hearing plays an important role in our quality of life, only 1 in 5 people who needs a hearing aid actually uses one. Finding one that works well for you will greatly improve your ability to communicate with your friends and family, complete day-to-day tasks, and enhance your awareness of your surroundings. This is important not only to enjoy life, but also to improve your overall safety. And, while hearing loss can be permanent, hearing aids can create a life where you forget that is the case.
What are Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids are small devices that allow a person to hear better in quiet or noisy environments. They allow users to listen and communicate with others, and be able to go about their normal activities, even after they have been affected by hearing loss.
Credit:Fix Your Ears
Hearing aids improve hearing by magnifying sound vibrations that enter the ears. They convert sound that is received through a microphone and amplify it through an ear fitting at the right volume for the level of hearing loss that a person has.
Even as recently as a few decades ago, many who suffered from hearing loss felt embarrassed to wear hearing aids due to their large design that stood out to others. Thankfully now there are many discreet options that are almost impossible to spot.
How do Hearing Aids Work?
Hearing aids are electronic machines that amplify the sounds of your surroundings into your ear so that you can hear them better. Witha variety of styles and functionalities, there is sure to be one that is most comfortable to you. The key is to keep trying different models until you find one that you love. There are three essential parts to a hearing aid:
The microphone picks up the sounds and sends them to the amplifier which will make the sounds louder. Lastly, the receiver will send these sounds into your ear. Hearing aids are adjustable so you can control how loud you want the amplifier to go.
Different Types of Hearing Aids
Hearing aid technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the past century, and today, there are two types of hearing aids commonly found:
Credit: Center For Hearing
Analog Hearing Aids
Analog hearing aids first came on to the market in the 60s and 70s, but are still used today. They have a microphone that transforms sound into a current, which is then amplified and played through a speaker or receiver. While they are not as advanced as digital hearing aids, analog devices are a cheaper alternative and mean that people who cannot afford expensive aids are still able to obtain assistance with their hearing.
- Simple to use
- Pre-programmed settings
Digital Hearing Aids
The most advanced technology that we’ve seen in the world of hearing aids has brought us digital devices that are much more comfortable and discreet than any previous designs. They work in a similar way to analog models, but they convert sound waves into numerical codes, and you have more control over how you receive the sounds around you. Digital hearing aids include practical settings and features and are able to analyze your environment to give you the best sound quality.
Digital hearing aids come in a variety of forms to fit the needs of users. You can find:
- Behind The Ear
- In The Ear
- In The Canal
- Complete In Canal
While hearing aids can function differently, they can also be worn differently.
Styles of Digital Hearing Aids
BTE Hearing Aid
BTE or Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids hook over the top of the ears of the user, and rest behind the ear. BTE hearing aids remain connected to custom earpieces known as earmolds through a tube. The earmold fits in the ear canal easily. This type of hearing aid has traditionally been the largest type of hearing aid. Some of the newer designs are smaller, streamlined, and barely visible. BTE hearing aids are appropriate for any type of hearing loss, and people of all ages.
- Has Directional Microphones
- Capable of More Amplification than Other Types
- Might Pick Up More Wind Noise than Other Types
- Might be Available with Rechargeable Batteries
ITE Hearing Aids
ITE or In-the-Ear hearing aids are custom-made in two different styles- one that only fills the lower part of the bowl-shaped area of the outer ear, and one that fills most of the bowl-shaped area. Both styles are helpful for people that are suffering from mild to severe hearing loss problems. ITE Hearing aid features two directional microphones for better hearing in noise. It also includes features that usually don’t fit on smaller hearing aids, like a manual volume control.
- Easier to Handle
- Uses Larger Batteries for Longer Battery Life with Various Options for Rechargeable Batteries
- Susceptible to Earwax Clogging
- Might Pick Up More Wind Noise than Smaller Hearing Aids
- More Visible than Smaller Hearing Aids
Canal (ITC, CIC)
There are two different styles of hearing aids that go inside the ear canal of the user. These two styles are ITC or In-the-Canal Hearing Aids and CIC or Completely In the Canal Hearing Aids.
ITC Hearing Aids
ITC Hearing Aids are custom molded, and they fit in the ear canal partly. This style works well for mild to moderate hearing loss problems in adults.
- Less Visible in the Ear
- Might be Difficult to Adjust due to Small Size
- Susceptible to Earwax Clogging
- Provides Features that CIC Hearing Aids Don’t Provide
Have a look at some of the best In-The Ear (ITE) Hearing Aids.
CIC Hearing Aids
CIC or Completely in the canal hearing aids are molded to fit inside the ear canal of the user. This hearing aid helps to improve mild to moderate hearing loss problems in adults.
- The Smallest and Least Visible Type
- Less Likely to Pick Wind Noise Up
- Uses Very Small Batteries that can be difficult to handle. These batteries have a shorter lifespan.
- Doesn’t often include features like directional microphones or volume control
- Susceptible to Earwax Clogging
Latest Technologies in Hearing Aids
Hearing aids technology is getting developed continuously. More and more new features are getting added to the hearing aids of the present time. We started with analog hearing aids, and now most people prefer to use the digital ones that come with various impressive features. These features have made the lives of the users much easier and more convenient.
Some of these special features include:
Most hearing aids these days come with rechargeable features. Rechargeable batteries are used in those hearing aids. Instead of changing your batteries whenever they run out of power, you will be able to recharge them easily by plugging your hearing aids into the charging station. You will be able to use them all day with a full night’s charge. Learn more about rechargeable hearing aids and their benefits.
Bluetooth connectivity is another important feature that’s provided by digital hearing aids. With the Bluetooth connectivity option, you’ll easily be able to connect your hearing aids with your smartphone. Also, any other electronic device that’s compatible with Bluetooth can be connected with your hearing aids. You will be able to stream anything from those devices to your hearing aids and listen properly. You will also be able to stream phone calls directly to your hearing aids through Bluetooth. Learn more through our comprehensive guide to Bluetooth hearing aids .
Hearing Aid Battery Options
Two different kinds of batteries are used in hearing aids. They are:
- Standard Disposable Batteries
- Rechargeable Batteries
Standard Disposable Batteries
All hearing aids once used to come with these disposable batteries. These batteries are known as “zinc-air batteries”, or “button batteries”. These batteries get activated by air, so they are kept inactive with a factory-sealed sticker. Once the sticker is peeled off, oxygen interacts with the zinc battery to turn it on.
These batteries remain stable for a maximum of three years when stored in a dry room, and at room temperature. After they run out of power, you will need to dispose of them and get a new battery for your hearing aid.
Many of the good-quality hearing aid models come with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. These batteries have become way more popular than disposable batteries, as you can use a battery for a long time just by recharging it when the power goes down. You’ll need to charge these batteries to keep them functional, similar to how smartphones work. Most hearing aids with rechargeable batteries come with a docking station that’s easy to use. Each night before going to bed, just take out your hearing aids and plug them into the charger before going to bed. The battery life of rechargeable hearing aids varies from device to device.
Do I Need a Hearing Aid?
Hearing aids are most effective for people who are suffering from permanent hearing loss to some degree. When hearing loss problems occur due to damages in the hearing cells of the inner ear, they can’t be cured or reversed. They are known as permanent or sensorineural hearing loss. As these hearing loss problems can’t be treated completely, people need to take measures that can help them listen to sounds better, and take care of their hearing health. Hearing aids are the best option for that.
Hearing aids help a person with hearing loss to listen better by amplifying sounds for them. At the same time, hearing aids keep the hearing health of the person from further deteriorating. Overall, hearing aids help a person with hearing loss to get on with their normal lives. So, if you get diagnosed with permanent hearing loss, you should resort to using hearing aids based on your hearing needs. Your audiologist will prescribe the right kind of hearing aids to you.
How to Get a Hearing Aid?
If you haven't already, it's best to consult an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) to assess your hearing loss so they can find out what caused it and what the severity is. You can find this specialty doctor by searching the internet or asking your regular general practice doctor for a recommendation. Consulting with an ENT along with an audiologist will give you enough information to find the hearing aid best suited for your needs.
How to Choose the Right Hearing Aids
Using hearing aids is the most effective method for dealing with permanent or sensorineural hearing loss problems. If you get diagnosed with permanent hearing loss problems, then the best course of action is to start using hearing aids. Before getting hearing aids for yourself, here are some things that you need to consider:
- If You Actually Have Hearing Loss
- The Nature of The Hearing Loss You’re Suffering From
- The Level of Technology You Need
- If You Need Hearing Aids in One Ear or Both Ears
- Type of Outdoor Activities You Engage In
- Getting Hearing Aids Matching Your Lifestyle and Preference
How to Adjust to Hearing Aids
It can take some time to adjust to your new hearing aids. You might face some problems in getting adjusted to your new hearing aids, and your brain might need some time to adjust to the amplified sounds. Here are some things that you can do to get adjusted to your hearing aids properly:
- Let your hearing aids adjust with your ears comfortably
- In the beginning, wear the hearing aids only for few hours per day
- Take some time to adjust the sound processing of the hearing aids
- Don't play with the volume too much
- Practice talking to groups of people
- Set the television to a normal volume
- Watch shows or movies with subtitles
- Do some listening exercises by closing your eyes
- Gradually increase the time you keep your hearing aids on
Cleaning & Maintenance of Hearing Aids
It is really important to keep your hearing aids clean. You can’t just clean your hearing aids with whatever you already have at home. Proper hearing aid cleaning tools are needed for the cleaning process. The hearing aid cleaning tools you’ll need are:
- Dry, clean cloth to wipe your hearing aids daily
- Wax Pick to remove earwax from the tube of the hearing aids
- Hearing Aid Brush for sweeping away debris from your hearing aid
- Bulb Blower for removing water from the tube of the hearing aids
- Drying Station to keep the hearing aids moisture-free while they’re not in use
- Ventilation Cleaner to remove earwax and moisture from the vents of the ITE hearing aids
Before cleaning your hearing aids, make sure that your hands are properly washed. Otherwise, germs might get transferred to your hearing aids from your hands. It’s better if you place a clean and dry cloth on the table, and put your hearing aids on the cloth before cleaning them. This way your hearing aids will be safe from the germs and dirt on the table.
Is There Financial Assistance for Hearing Aids?
Most health insurance premiums don’t cover the cost of hearing aids. Some insurers at times offer optional plans that might include the cost of your hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. Some plans might cover a part of the cost, whereas some plans might provide you with an allowance if you get hearing aids from certain contracted providers.
Apart from that, you may be able to get financial assistance for hearing aids, or free hearing aids, from the following organizations:
- Ear Community
- Starkey Hearing Foundation
- AG Bell Financial Grant
- UnitedHealthCare Children’s Foundation
- Cincinnati Children’s Hearing Aid Trust
- Hearing Loss Association of America
- The Better Hearing Organization
- Hear and Say Foundation
- Audient Alliance
- Children of the Silent World
- Hearing Health 4 U
- Easter Seals
- Help Kids Hear
- Miracle-Ear for Children’s Fund
- Optimist International
- Lions Club International
There are many more. Contact these organizations to see if you are eligible to get financial assistance for your hearing aids.
We hope you found this beginner crash course to hearing aids helpful. For something that you will use every day of your life, finding a hearing aid that will give you the best results and comfort, and suit your needs, is important. This is a job we take seriously at Nano Hearing Aids by providing you with the best quality hearing aids on the market for a reasonable price. Hearing accounts for 20% of our senses, but when we loss it, it feels like a much heavier loss. Our mission is to give you back your quality of life so that you can continue to make great memories with your loved ones and your community. Contact us for more information and our friendly staff would love to answer all your questions!
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the difference between deafness and hearing loss/impairment?
Ans: Deafness refers to the profound loss of hearing ability in one or both ears with little to no hearing at all. Whereas, hearing impairment is a broad term that can be defined if one has a problem or suffer damage to one or both ears. It also refers to a diminishing ability to experience sound like most others. Deafness itself is a form of hearing impairment.
Q. At what point do you need a hearing aid?
Ans: People with normal hearing can hear sounds less than 25 decibels (dB). If the softest sounds you can hear are 30 dB or louder, you may be missing a significant amount of what is said to you and are probably a candidate for a hearing aid. It's important to note that hearing aids are only amplifiers.
Q. What percentage of hearing loss qualifies for disability?
Ans:If you have a word recognition score of 60% or less using the Hearing in Noise Test, then it qualifies as a disability.
Q. Is it okay to wear one hearing aid?
Ans: It's completely okay to wear one hearing aid if you have mild hearing loss in one ear. But make sure to check-up regularly whether your good ear is still hearing well or not.
Nano Hearing Aids avoid using tertiary references, they draw only from peer-reviewed academic research, medical journals, and studies.
Wilson PS, Fleming M, Donaldson I. Prevalence of hearing loss among people aged 65 years and over: screening and hearing aid provision. Brit J Gen Practice.1993;43:406–409.