Exploring Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids

From your work to your relationships, as well as your emotional well-being, losing one’s hearing is a terrible condition. While losing one’s hearing doesn’t necessarily affect the Activities of Daily Living, there is still a great learning curve when adjusting to hearing loss.  For many people, hearing aids can greatly help, but it’s incredibly important to choose the right ones and seek assistance to have them properly adjusted. Here’s what you need to know about hearing aids.

How Hearing Aids Can Help an Otherwise Terrible Situation

By definition, a hearing aid is an electronic device designed to improve your hearing. It’s small enough to wear in or behind your ear. The task of the hearing aid is to amplify sounds, thereby improving hearing and understanding of speech. They can not only help you to hear better when it’s quiet, but recent noise-cancelling technologies can even help you hear when it’s noisy.

Only about 1 in 5 people can actually benefit from wearing a hearing aid. They are most commonly used for people with hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve (called sensorineural hearing loss) from:

  • Disease
  • Aging
  • Injury caused by noise or medications

Hearing loss is due to issues with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear, is considered to be “conductive” hearing loss, most of which can be improved or corrected with surgery or other medical help. Seeing an audiologist or ENT specialist can determine the type and degree of your hearing loss. Whenever possible, procure a hearing aid through your specialist if needed. Avoid mail-order hearing aids, which often don’t fit well and don’t improve hearing enough. If you suffer from hearing loss in both ears, it’s probably best to assume you will need an aid in each ear.

Batteries power the hearing aid’s electronics. Here’s how the other parts of a hearing aid work:

  • A microphone picks up sound around you.
  • An amplifier makes the sound louder.
  • A receiver sends these amplified sounds into your ear, where they’re converted to neural signals and sent to your brain. 

Types and Styles of Hearing Aids

Work with an audiologist to figure out which type and style will work best, as well as any special features you need. This depends on things such as:

  • The type and severity of your hearing loss
  • Your age
  • Your dexterity
  • Your lifestyle
  • Your financial resources. Hearing aids vary greatly in price, from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

Types and Styles of Hearing Aids continued…

There are two main types of hearing aids: analog and digital.

  • Analog hearing aids convert sound waves into electrical signals that are then amplified. These are typically less expensive and basically have simple volume controls.
  • Digital hearing aids use complex algorithms that will often provide great flexibility in adjusting to your needs or environments, as well as the direction of the sound. Although this type is more expensive than an analog hearing aid, the results are significant’y better. They are also smaller and more powerful.  Digital hearing aids can have “presets” that can detect your environment and adjust accordingly; for example a restaurant, quiet room, or at an outdoor stadium. 

There are three main styles of hearing aids, which differ in size, placement in or on the ear, and ability to amplify sound:

  • Canal hearing aids fit into your ear canal and are less visible. An in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid fits your specific ear canal. A completely-in-canal (CIC) aid is smaller and nearly hidden in your ear canal. You can use either type for hearing loss that is mild to moderately severe. On the negative side, they can be harder to adjust and remove because of their small size. An invisible-in-canal (IIC) aid is nearly invisible.  You may put it in every day, or it may be a device you wear for several months at a time. This is a great option for people who might have trouble putting it in every day.
  • In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside your outer ear with a hard plastic case holding the electronics. Best for people with mild to severe hearing loss.
  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids house their parts in a hard plastic case behind your ear. A plastic ear mold fits inside the outer ear and directs sound to the ear, improving sound quality. A newer type (Mini BTE) fits entirely behind your ear, with a narrow tube reaching into your ear canal. This helps minimize earwax buildup and any muffling of your own voice. You can use the BTE type no matter your age or amount of hearing loss.

HearingAids

Some additional options may include:

  • Directional microphones help you better respond to sound coming from a specific direction and help tune out background noise.
  • A telephone switch minimizes background noise and better picks up sounds from the phone. If you can find this system, it can help with hearing in theaters, auditoriums, and churches.
  • Direct audio input allows you to plug in a remote microphone or FM assistive listening system or to connect directly to a TV or other device.  

Adjusting to and Caring for Hearing Aids

It’s important to understand that your hearing aid cannot restore hearing as it once was. But with regular use, you will become more aware of sounds and where they are coming from. When you first get your hearing aids, be patient. It will take time to get used to them. 

Take time to learn how your hearing aids work and insist on a good fit. Work closely with your audiologist to minimize any problems such as:

  • Slight discomfort
  • Echo-like sounds from your own voice
  • Feedback or a whistling sound
  • Background noise
  • Buzzing with cell phone use

Your hearing aids will last much longer if you take good care of them. If you have the assistance of an In-Home Caregiver or Private Duty Nurse, they can help you with the care and cleaning.  Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep your hearing aids away from heat, moisture, hair care products, children, and pets.
  • Clean the hearing aid as directed.
  • Turn off your hearing aids when you are not using them and replace dead batteries right away. Hearing aid batteries may last from several days to a couple of weeks. Battery life depends on the battery type, hearing aid power requirements, and how often the hearing aid is used with assistive listening devices.
  • In general, hearing aids have a life expectancy of 3 to 6 years. You may need a new hearing aid sooner if your hearing loss is progressive. Behind-the-ear hearing aids have more flexibility since they can be programmed for a wider range of hearing loss.

Because digital hearing aids are built with computer technology, they get stronger and better every few years as technology improves. This often prompts people to upgrade their hearing aids.

Be sure to check with your insurance company.  Many states require that hearing aids be covered by your insurance.

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