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Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not rare, but the majority are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Most are generally too long or complex, creating more perplexity rather than less.

My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and more interested in determining the most suitable technology at a reasonable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll appreciate this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four small parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can seem overwhelming—there are a number of brands and seemingly never-ending considerations. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. As you progress through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function generally the same way, and include these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone picks up external sound and transmits 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 delivered to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker supplies the enhanced sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

Additionally, all hearing aids contain a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.

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

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three primary styles:

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

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the external 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 conspicuous than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely inside of the ear canal, causing them to be nearly or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some types can be worn for months at a time.

When choosing 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 pick the most appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve selected the right style, you can establish which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones permit you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while decreasing the disruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while minimizing the static brought about by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for instance in a quiet room at home as opposed to in a lively 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 converts your hearing aids into top-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from the phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly from the phone to the hearing aids.

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

Selecting 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 examine your hearing accurately, which is essential for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate 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 function. Explore these two variables with your hearing consultant and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Develop a budget. Some would assert that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing specialist can uncover the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
  4. Try out your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to set sensible expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to show results. Your patience will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What appears to be a complicated process is in truth easily manageable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and limit your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the right technology at the right price—so you can start making the most of all of the benefits of better hearing.

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