Modern hearing care has come a long way in terms of improving hearing health-related quality of life. Hearing aids are the primary means of managing hearing loss that cannot be treated medically or surgically.
Today's hearing aid technology
There are many different hearing aids on the market in all sorts of shapes, sizes, colours, prices and performance levels. Your hearing care professional will explain the different systems and their benefits, guiding you towards the models that are best suited to your hearing needs, lifestyle and personal preferences.
Hearing aids are more than just amplifiers. Modern digital technology allows advantageous manipulation of sound in many useful ways. Some hearing aids are completely automatic, while others have user-adjustable controls.
The rapid advance of technology in recent years has transformed the performance and appearance of hearing aids. Microchips and miniaturization mean they work better and are smaller than ever before. All hearing aids should allow you to hear better, but the most advanced hearing aids will enable you to hear as naturally as possible.
Types of hearing aids
Hearing aids come in many shapes and sizes, but the two main categories include behind-the-ear (BTE) and in-the-ear (ITE).
The majority of hearing aid users choose a behind-the-ear model. These are light, small and almost unnoticeable on the ear. There are two variations:
- Receiver in the ear (RITE). These hearing aids have an ultra-thin, sculpted wire that carries the amplified sound from the hearing aid body to a speaker that fits in the ear canal. RITE advantages include better aesthetics, a more natural sound quality and a comfortable, open fitting. RITEs are available for mild, moderate and severe-to-profound hearing loss in both miniRITE and standard RITE designs.
- BTE with an earhook or thin tube. In these models, the receiver (loudspeaker) is not placed in the ear but located inside the body of the hearing aid. The sound passes through a tube to an ear mold that is custom-made from an ear impression to perfectly replicate the size and shape of your ear. Most BTE models with ear hooks can be fitted with a very discreet thin tube. These devices have a larger battery and can accommodate a larger amplifier, often suiting people who need a more powerful device. They also have enough space to accommodate a double push button for easy operation of volume and program options.
ITE hearing aids are custom styles where all components are contained within a single unit that is custom-designed for the ear. Custom hearing aids range in size from the smallest IIC (Invisible In-The-Canal) to a slightly larger CIC (Completely In-The-Canal) to a full shell ITE (In-The-Ear).
The size and style available to you depends on the size of your ear canal and the level of your hearing loss. If you are able to use the smallest IIC style, it is extremely discreet. The larger custom products are usually more flexible for people with significant hearing loss and can be easier to insert.
Whether you prefer a RITE style, a BTE with earhook or a custom version, there are a wide variety of choices available, including a choice of colours available to match individual skin and hair tones.
The choice of hearing aid styles and features is based on several factors including, the exact type and degree of hearing loss, your communication requirements, lifestyle, manual dexterity and your medical and audiological history and related findings.
Several features are available to improve the hearing aid experience. The most common are:
- Directional microphones to enhance speech understanding in noise
- Noise management to improve listening comfort in noisy situations
- Feedback cancellation to alleviate the annoyance of whistling or buzzing
- Telephone programs to access sound from phones and other sound sources
- Wireless capabilities to transfer sound between ears and connect to Bluetooth devices
- Many other features providing unique benefits to those with hearing loss
Do you need one or two hearing aids?
If you have hearing loss in both ears, your hearing care professional will recommend two hearing aids. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, two hearing aids provide superior benefits for the majority of people with regard to better word recognition in quiet and noisy backgrounds, quality of sound, ability to determine the direction from which sound is coming and an overall more natural hearing experience. According to the American Academy of Audiology, research has also shown that when both ears are candidates for hearing aids and only one ear is fitted, the unaided ear may lose speech recognition ability more rapidly than the fitted ear.
Hearing aid fitting
After your hearing aids have been selected, they must be fitted appropriately. Hearing aids must amplify sounds so they can be heard comfortably without causing discomfort, and must be secure and physically comfortable in the ear.
The hearing aids are adjusted using a computer in the hearing care professional’s office, and the results can be measured. The quiet nature of a hearing clinic often does not represent the variety of sounds heard in everyday life, so your new hearing aids will need to be evaluated in the sound environments most important to you. A daily journal is useful for this purpose, especially in the first few weeks and months with your new hearing aids. By working together with your hearing care professional, the hearing aids can be adjusted to perform most functions optimally and automatically in these environments.
Your hearing care professional will help you understand what your new hearing aids are capable of, teach you how to use them and work with you to get the best hearing possible. Your hearing care professional may also suggest specific assistive listening devices to supplement the hearing aids and to address specific complaints.
Proper care and maintenance of hearing aids
As with all electronics, hearing aids require care and maintenance. This includes handling them carefully, not exposing the hearing aids to water and chemicals and keeping them very clean. Your hearing care professional will discuss and demonstrate proper daily care as well as maintenance techniques and maintenance products. The hearing aid user’s manual will review much of this information as a convenient reference handbook.
Given the hostile conditions (temperature extremes, high levels of humidity, perspiration and earwax) under which hearing aids operate, daily cleaning and maintenance are highly recommended. Proper care and maintenance reduces the need for repair.
Your hearing care professional will review with you the details of your hearing aid repair warranty, loss and damage protection, service protocols, maintenance advice as well as introductory periods and return policies.
Adjusting to your hearing aids
Even with the best and newest technology, it is important to maintain realistic expectations. While hearing aids make sounds easier to hear, they will not restore normal hearing. Hearing aids re-introduce you to a world of sound, and it takes time to become accustomed to the new sounds. Some people adjust quickly, others take longer. Your hearing specialist will discuss auditory training programs, communication strategies and assistive listening devices to alleviate difficulties.
Don’t worry if you find that it takes you a little while to get used to your new hearing aids. This is perfectly normal. They will bring big changes to your life, and big changes take a bit of getting used to.
If you are ready to find out if hearing aids are the solution for your specific hearing loss, our hearing healthcare professionals can help. Visit our directory to find a hearing healthcare professional in your area.