Hearing aids are small electronic devices worn in or around the ear, which are capable of receiving sound from the environment and amplifying it in order to help someone with hearing impairment to communicate with others and to be able to function independently.
Living with hearing loss is extremely common with aging, with almost half of those over 75 years experiencing variable degrees of hearing impairment. In the United States alone around 17% of adults complain of some level of hearing impairment. Only 1 out of 5 people who may benefit from a hearing aid are actually using one, despite the easy availability of a wide range of hearing aids. If you’re considering buying a hearing aid, best hearing aid reviews can help you find the right brand that fits your needs and budget
Types of Hearing Aids based on Electronics Used
- Analog Hearing Aids: These work by converting sound waves into electric signals followed by amplification. The aid is programmed for the individual based on recommendations from their audiologist. This would ensure optimal amplification of sound depending on he person’s hearing deficit. The hearing aid is also programmed for different environments such as a quiet room or a crowded restaurant which can be switched between by the wearer.
- Digital Hearing Aids: These hearing aids convert the sound waves into small digital units or codes which are similar to computer binary codes before amplification. This digitization allows for a wider range of programming opportunities. The nature of the sound can be analysed to identify the pitch and loudness and can thereby be modified appropriately to the wearer’s needs. This is achieved using special circuitry which can be incorporated in different hearing aid styles. These tend to be much more expensive than analog hearing aids.
Styles of Hearing Aids
Based on the appearance and size of the hearing aid, there are different styles which can be opted for. The choice should be determined by the age of the patient, type of hearing loss and cost.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) Hearing Aids: In this style of hearing aid, the electronic circuitry is located behind the ear encased in plastic. Another part connected to this is a plastic ear mould to fit snugly inside the ear and is the part which transmits the amplified sound into the ear canal. As this type fits well into the ear it can be worn by people of all ages without fear of falling out. One common complaint that users have is that their ear feels plugged up with alteration in the perception of their own voice.
A new type of BTE hearing aids is the open-fit hearing aid. In this style, there is a thin narrow tube which leads into the ear canal to transmit sound. This has the advantage of preventing a plugged-up sensation and is also beneficial for those who are prone to excess wax production.
- In-the-ear (ITE) Hearing Aids: As the name suggests, in this style of hearing aids, the entire device is located in the earpiece which fits in the opening of the ear canal. These aids need to be fitted properly to avoid falling out. It is usually not preferred for small children as they may require multiple replacements of the encasement as they grow older. ITE hearing aids may also include a telecoil. This is a special device which can pick up signals from an induction loop system. An induction loop system is a magnetic signal which can be picked up by the coil and amplified alone apart from the background noise. This mode can be used to speak on telephones and allows for hearing in public areas with an induction loop system.
- Canal Aids: These aids are much smaller in size and come in two forms. In the Canal (ITC) hearing aids are designed to fit the persons ear canal shape and size and Completely in the canal (CIC) hearing aids which are smaller and get hidden in the ear canal. Due to the smaller size, there are restrictions for the amount of electronic circuitry which can be accommodated and are thus useful only for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. They are also harder to insert and remove and are not recommended for use by children.
Difficulties experienced while using a Hearing Aid
- Discomfort wile wearing it: As it is a new device to the body, these may feel very uncomfortable initially. With use, this feeling wears off. It is also important to note the duration up to which the hearing aid can be worn each day.
- Plugged up sensation: The blocking of the ear canal can alter the perception of your own voice and make it sound louder. This is called the occlusion effect. Users generally adapt to this with time. If it is very uncomfortable, a smaller style of hearing aid like an open-fit BTE or canal aid can be tried.
- Excessive background noise: This could be due to an error in programming the aid and can be adjusted by an audiologist if required.
- Feedback noise: Upon prolonged use or technical problems in the aid, a high pitched or whistling sound may be heard. This should be looked at by an audiologist.
- Radiofrequency interference from cell phones: This is a problem which can cause a buzzing noise to be heard when taking a call or if your cell phone is nearby. With new models of phones and hearing aids, this problem is decreasing.
- Hearing Aids [Internet]. NIDCD. 2015 [cited 2018 Aug 15]
- Health C for D and R. Hearing Aids – Types of Hearing Aids [Internet]. [cited 2018 Aug 15]