Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not hard to find, but the majority are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complex, resulting in more confusion instead of less.

My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the ins and outs of acoustical engineering and more interested in obtaining the right technology at a fair price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.

If that describes you, then you’ll enjoy this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s most appropriate for you. Let’s get started.

How All Digital Hearing Aids Work

Selecting a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are a number of brands and seemingly limitless considerations. But it’s not as complex as it appears. As you move on through this guide, bear in mind that all digital hearing aids function essentially the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone registers external sound and transfers it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then directed to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the person has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker delivers the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

In addition, all hearing aids contain a battery, volume and setting switches, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two major ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll address these in the next two sections.

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three principal styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and rest behind the ear. The case is then linked to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are simple to handle and clean, normally have a longer battery life, and can manage severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the exterior part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but bigger than the in-the-canal styles. This renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less detectable than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or entirely within the ear canal, making them almost or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some can be worn for several months at a time.

When selecting a style, take into account the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and choose the best suited style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve decided on the most suitable style, you can determine which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the diversion of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while decreasing the static brought on by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home as opposed to in a busy restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as televisions, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones turns your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from your phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning kits, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you decide on which hearing aid accessories you may need or want.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids

Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient experience can test your hearing properly, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two variables with your hearing consultant and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Set a budget. Some would say that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing professional can uncover the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
  4. Test drive your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to set realistic expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to work. Your persistence will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What appears to be a complex process is in fact easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your choices. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the right technology at the right price—so you can start taking pleasure in all of the perks of better hearing.

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