Otoscope and hearing aid on audiogram printout

Are you thinking of purchasing hearing aids?

If so, it can feel intimidating at first. There are countless options available, and the obscure terminology doesn’t help.

That’s why we’re going to clarify the most common and important terms, so when you talk with your hearing professional you’ll be well prepared to pick out the best hearing aid for you.

Hearing loss and testing

High-frequency hearing loss – this is the most commonly encountered form of hearing loss. Individuals with high-frequency hearing loss have the most difficulty hearing higher frequency sounds, like the sounds of speech.

Sensorineural hearing loss – this form of hearing loss comes about when there is injury to the nerve cells of the inner ear. This is the most prevalent form of permanent hearing loss triggered by exposure to loud noise, the aging process, genetics, or other medical ailments.

Bilateral hearing loss – hearing loss in both ears, which may be symmetrical (the equivalent level of loss in both ears) or asymmetrical (different degrees of loss in each ear). Bilateral hearing loss is almost always best treated with two hearing aids.

Audiogram – the chart which provides a visual representation of your hearing test results. The vertical axis measures decibels (volume) and the horizontal axis measures frequencies (pitch). The hearing specialist captures the lowest decibel level you are able to hear at each frequency. If you need higher volumes to hear higher frequencies, your audiogram will show a pattern of high-frequency hearing loss.

Decibel (dB) – the unit used to measure sound level or strength. Typical conversation registers at around 60 decibels, and continuous exposure to any sound over 80 decibels could cause irreversible hearing loss. Seeing as the scale is logarithmic, an increase of 6-10 decibels doubles the volume of the sound.

Frequency – represents pitch as measured in hertz. Imagine moving up the keys on a piano, from left to right (low-frequency/pitch to high-frequency/pitch).

Threshold of hearing – The lowest decibel level that can be detected at each individual frequency.

Degree of hearing loss – Hearing loss is generally characterized as mild (26-40 dB loss), moderate (41-55), severe (71-90), or profound (91+).

Tinnitus – a relentless ringing or buzzing in the ears when no exterior sound is present. Frequently a signal of hearing damage or loss.

Hearing aid styles

Digital hearing aid – hearing aids that include a digital microchip, used to custom-program the hearing aids to accommodate each individual’s distinct hearing loss.

Hearing aid style – the type of hearing aid defined by its size and location in relation to the ear. Main styles include behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, and in-the-canal.

Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids – the majority of hearing aid parts are enclosed inside of a case that rests behind the ear, connected to an earmold by a clear plastic tube. Mini-BTE hearing aids are also available.

In the ear (ITE) hearing aids – the hearing aid components are contained inside of a case that fits in the outer part of the ear.

In the canal (ITC) hearing aids – the hearing aid components are contained in a case that fits within the ear canal. Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids are also obtainable that are nearly invisible when worn.

Hearing aid parts

Earmold – a piece of plastic, acrylic, or other pliable material that is shaped to the contours of the patient’s ears, used for the fitting of hearing aids.

Microphone – the hearing aid component that picks up sound in the environment and converts the sound waves into an electrical signal.

Digital signal processor – a special microprocessor within the hearing aid that can adjust and enhance sound.

Amplifier – the component of the hearing aid that increases the volume of sound.

Speaker – the hearing aid part that delivers the enhanced sound to the ear.

Wireless antenna – available in certain hearing aids, permitting wireless connectivity to compatible devices such as mobile phones and music players.

Hearing aid advanced features

Variable programming – hearing aid programming that permits the user to adjust sound settings according to the environment (e.g. at home versus in a chaotic restaurant).

Directional microphones – microphones that can focus on sound coming from a specified location while reducing background noise.

Telecoils – a coil placed inside of the hearing aid that allows it to connect to wireless signals originating from telephones, assistive listening devices, and hearing loops installed in public venues.

Noise reduction – functionality that assists the hearing aid to distinguish speech sounds from background noise, which results in the augmentation of speech and the inhibition of disruptive noise.

Bluetooth technology – allows the hearing aid to communicate wirelessly with a number of devices, including smartphones, computers, MP3 players, and other compatible products.


Uncertain of which features you need, or which you could live without? Let us help you discover the ideal hearing aid for your distinct needs. Give us a call today!

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