Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not rare, but most are not quite reader-friendly, either. Most are generally too long or complicated, resulting in more confusion instead of less.

My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the ins and outs of acoustical engineering and a lot more interested in locating the most suitable technology at a fair price. Your intent is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.

If that describes you, then you’ll welcome this concise guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four small parts, and when we’re done, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to discover the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Digital Hearing Aids Work

Choosing a hearing aid can seem intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly limitless factors to consider. But it’s not as complicated as it appears. As you move on through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids work essentially the same way, and include these four fundamental parts:

  1. The microphone registers external sound and sends it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor adjusts the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The modified sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker renders the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting switches, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two very 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 main styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then fastened to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are easy to handle and clean, typically have an extended battery life, and can accommodate 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 larger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes 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 partly or entirely inside of the ear canal, which makes them 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 selecting a style, weigh the tradeoffs among user-friendliness, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and find the appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve decided on the right style, you can figure out which of the following features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones permit you to concentrate 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 cutting down on the static induced by by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based upon your environment, for example in a quiet room at home versus in a hectic restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as TVs, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones converts your hearing aids into high-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be regulated from your phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly 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.

Selecting the Right Hearing Aids

Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient experience can examine your hearing accurately, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
  2. Discuss hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two variables with your hearing expert and your options will become manageable.
  3. Establish a budget. Some would state that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have an unlimited budget. With all of the hearing aid choices available to you, you and your hearing specialist can uncover the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
  4. Test out your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to establish reasonable expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to work. Your perseverance will be paid back when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What looks like a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start taking pleasure in all of the perks of better hearing.