A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.
A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.
How can hearing aids help?
Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells.
A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The greater the damage to a person’s hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, and the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference. However, there are practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. In addition, if the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, a hearing aid would be ineffective.
How can I find out if I need a hearing aid?
If you think you might have hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid, visit your physician, who may refer you to an otolaryngologist or audiologist. An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders and will investigate the cause of the hearing loss. An audiologist is a hearing health professional who identifies and measures hearing loss and will perform a hearing test to assess the type and degree of loss.
What are the different styles of hearing aids?
Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids: Most parts are contained in a small plastic case that rests behind the ear; the case is connected to an earmold or an earpiece by a piece of clear tubing. This style is often chosen for young children because it can accommodate various earmold types, which need to be replaced as the child grows. Also, the BTE aids are easy to be cleaned and handled, and are relatively sturdy.
“Mini” BTE (or “on-the-ear”) aids: A new type of BTE aid called the mini BTE (or “on-the-ear”) aid. It also fits behind/on the ear, but is smaller. A very thin, almost invisible tube is used to connect the aid to the ear canal. Mini BTEs may have a comfortable ear piece for insertion (“open fit”), but may also use a traditional earmold. Mini BTEs allow not only reduced occlusion or “plugged up” sensations in the ear canal, but also increase comfort, reduce feedback and address cosmetic concerns for many users.
In-the-ear (ITE) aids: All parts of the hearing aid are contained in a shell that fills in the outer part of the ear. The ITE aids are larger than the in-the-canal and completely-in-the-canal aids (see below), and for some people may be easier to handle than smaller aids.
In-the-canal (ITC) aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) aids: These hearing aids are contained in tiny cases that fit partly or completely into the ear canal. They are the smallest hearing aids available and offer cosmetic and some listening advantages. However, their small size may make them difficult to handle and adjust for some people.
How can I care for my hearing aid?
Proper maintenance and care will extend the life of your hearing aid. Make it a habit to:
- Keep hearing aids away from heat and moisture.
- Clean hearing aids as instructed. Earwax and ear drainage can damage a hearing aid.
- Avoid using hairspray or other hair care products while wearing hearing aids.
- Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
- Replace dead batteries immediately.
- Keep replacement batteries and small aids away from children and pets.