If you’ve decided that it’s time for a set of hearing aids, good for you! Hearing aids are the best thing you can do to help maintain your best health and well-being once hearing loss becomes an issue.
What Are Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids are tiny amplification devices. They sit in or behind the ear, take in sound from the environment, process it, and amplify it so that it can be better understood by a person with hearing loss.
Advances in recent decades have led the industry toward digital hearing aids, rather than analog devices that may be familiar from the 1990s and before. Digital hearing aids use computers to process the sound, which means they can do more than ever to create a representation of sound that can be more clearly understood by the hard-of-hearing.
More About Digital Hearing Aids
Nearly all hearing aids manufactured today employ digital signal processing, or “DSP.” This allows hearing aids to be programmed to more precisely meet the needs of an individual’s hearing loss. It also allows them to be more effective in different environments. Some examples of the ways hearing aids can alter sound thanks to DSP include:
- Amplify speech while reducing background sound
- Improve directionality by combining signals from several microphones
- Reduce reverberation in echoey rooms
- Automatically interpret changes in environmental sound, and adjust accordingly to emphasize speech
- Create an amplification “sweet spot,” where quiet sounds are much louder, but loud sounds do not become painful or overwhelming
Most of these capabilities were undreamt of only 30 years ago, but the ever-increasing capabilities of computer chips allow hearing aids’ DSP to do all this and more.
Two Main Types
There are two main types of hearing aids. The type you choose should depend on a number of factors, including your lifestyle, degree of hearing loss, and price. The two main types are BTE (behind-the-ear) and ITE (in-the-ear).
BTE Hearing Aids
As the name suggests, BTE hearing aids sit behind the ear. A tube carries sound to an earpiece which is then inserted in the ear canal.
Since BTE hearing aids can be larger than ITE designs, they tend to be less expensive and/or more powerful. Those with severe-to-profound hearing loss may need to wear a BTE design, but they can be fitted for anyone. Most rechargeable hearing aids are BTE or its variant RIC (receiver-in-canal), since the rechargeable batteries used in hearing aids have to be somewhat larger than the disposable ones that are used in smaller designs.
ITE Hearing Aids
ITE hearing aids are designed so that the entirety of the device sits in the ear. Some models are larger and very visible, while others are so small they can sit deep in the ear canal, and you can even wear a set of earbuds while you have your hearing aids in. In general, they need to use disposable batteries to receive enough power to operate in such a small package, though Starkey makes a rechargeable ITE hearing aid.
The smaller the hearing aids are, the less features they will tend to have. Computers need to shrink as well as batteries, so the smaller they become, the less room manufacturers have to load them with features.
There are two main types of connectivity that hearing aids employ. These are telecoils and Bluetooth.
For decades, manufacturers have fitted their hearing aids with telecoils, or “T-coils.” While this technology has been around for a long time, it can still be useful. Telecoils are so named because they respond directly to the moving coil in a telephone speaker. Unlike a microphone, which has to pick up the acoustic sound generated by the telephone, a T-coil picks up the electrical energy from the telephone’s speaker, eliminating the extra steps of transduction (energy conversion), and sending the signal directly to your hearing aid’s speaker. T-coils are not just useful with the telephone, but with “loop systems” that are installed in many public places, and can be installed in your home or car.
A loop system is simply a loop of wire that runs around the perimeter of a room, and is connected to the speaker output on an amplifier. Any audio can be sent through it—whether it’s audio from a stereo, television, or live speaker—and picked up directly by the T-coils in your hearing aids.
Bluetooth connectivity has become very popular with hearing aid wearers because it allows a set of hearing aids to be connected to smartphones, stereo systems, televisions, and more. Using Bluetooth, most hearing aids can actually be controlled via a smartphone app, and they can stream audio from phone calls, video calls, media, and more.
Don’t let hearing loss control your life! Make an appointment for a hearing test today. You’ll learn more about hearing aids and take charge of your hearing health!