The most well-known treatment available to those suffering from hearing loss is the hearing aid. Hearing aids come in multiple kinds both digital and wireless, to be worn either inside or outside of the ear. Companies such as Phonak, Oticon, Widex, and ReSound manufacture a variety of hearing aid models, which allows audiologists to match individual patients with their own best fit.
HOW DO HEARING AIDS WORK?
Hearing aids are battery powered acoustic devices intended to treat individuals suffering from various types of hearing loss by amplifying external sound as it enters the ear canal. In many cases, hearing aids are also programmed to modulate and balance particular frequencies, helping individual users to filter out unwanted background noise and avoid potential interference. Hearing aids are the most widely used assistive technology for hearing loss and have a broad range of efficacy in helping those who are hard of hearing.
WHAT TYPES OF HEARING LOSS CAN A HEARING AID CORRECT?
Hearing aids have been proven to be effective treatments for mild, moderate, and even severe cases of hearing loss, both conductive and sensorineural, from a number of disparate causes. Since hearing aids function simply by amplifying, clarifying, and directing sound waves into the patient’s ear, they can be used to address almost any type auditory deficiency. As hearing aids are electronic devices intended to improve the quality of hearing without repairing the cause of damage or loss, they should generally be thought of long-term assistance rather than “cures”.
WHAT DIFFERENT KINDS OF HEARING AIDS ARE AVAILABLE?
Due to their overwhelming success in addressing a wide range of hearing loss and related symptoms, hearing aid technologies continue to be developed and improved at a rapid pace, providing audiologists with a diverse spectrum of options to consider for each patient’s individual needs. While all hearing aids share a similar functionality, different varieties will vary in size and shape, as well as in their circuitry, design, and relative powers of amplification. Hearing aid types are generally broken down into three categories, based upon where and how they are intended to be worn.
Behind the Ear Aids: Behind the ear aids (or BTEs) are comprised of a case which sits outside the ear, connected by a tube to a soft mold that fits just inside the patient’s ear. External sound is collected and amplified in the external case, and directed towards the ear canal by a speaker, which pushes information through the connecting tube. BTEs can be used to treat mild to profound hearing loss, and have the benefit of keeping the majority of electronic components outside of the ear itself, which significantly reduces the potential for unwanted feedback or inner-ear discomfort. BTEs are also available in “mini” form, featuring thinner connective tubes and smaller molds, which allow more room for ventilation and the passage of unamplified sound.
In the Ear Aids: In the ear hearing aids (or ITEs) sit completely inside the patient’s outer ear bowl, and function similarly to BTEs, amplifying external sounds and directing them into the ear; however, ITE use can be more complicated and problematic, as inner ear pressure and feedback have been known to present complications and discomfort in some patients. Also, each ITE device is specially designed and fitted for a particular user’s ear, making them more popular with adults, but less so with children who are still growing – as the shape of an ITE can be difficult and expensive to modify. The specificity of in the ear aids also makes them comparatively more expensive than their BTE equivalents. New ITEs manufactured from more pliable silicones have made shape adjustments easier, but there is still more intricacy and nuance involved than with almost any BTE. ITEs are commonly prescribed for mild to moderate impairment, but are less commonly applied to severe and profound cases of hearing loss.
In the Canal Aids: The different types of in the canal (ITC) aids are generally the smallest and least noticeable of the assistive devices, with tiny speakers that sit inside the lower portion of the patient’s ear, projecting directly into the canal. “Invisible” variants (IICs) are also available, and rest even deeper within the ear – often going completely unnoticed. While ITCs strongest point of comparison is typically their reduced size, receiver in the canal (RIC) varieties are available and offer a different perk – essentially functioning as BTEs whose speakers are located inside the ear, rather than in an external case, avoiding the quality loss that accompanies tube travel from the amplifier to the canal. ITCs are often the most expensive hearing aid option for individuals, but many patients and audiologists consider them to be well worth the cost.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A HEARING AID IS RIGHT FOR ME?
If you are an individual who suffers from auditory impairment or hearing loss of any kind, the best approach to considering potential treatments is to consult your local audiologist for a screening, evaluation, and consultation. Hearing aids can be extremely effective assistive devices, but only when properly suited to an individual’s particular case and needs. Share your concerns about your reduced hearing – and your interest in hearing aid technologies – with your doctor, and he will work with you to find the treatment program that is right. 1-888-HEAR-CLEAR can direct you to the highest rated audiologists in your area, who should always be the go-to experts for any such concerns.