Have you ever had trouble hearing in a congested room or restaurant but can hear without any problem at home? Do you have particular challenges hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?
If so, you might have hearing loss, and hearing aids might be able to help.
But how do hearing aids work exactly? Are they simple amplifiers, or something more complex?
This week we’ll be checking out how hearing aids work and how they are a great deal more sophisticated than many people recognize. But first, let’s start with how normal hearing works.
How Normal Hearing Works
The hearing process starts out with sound. Sound is essentially a type of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a pond. Things create sound in the environment when they generate vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are ultimately captured and transmitted to the ear canal by the outer ear.
Immediately after passing through the ear canal, the sound vibrations strike the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates, creating and amplifying the original signal which is then transmitted by the middle ear bones to the snail-shaped organ of the middle ear called the cochlea.
The cochlea is full of fluid and tiny nerve cells called cilia. The vibrations transferred from the middle ear bones stir the fluid and stimulate the cilia. The cilia then conduct electrical signals to the brain and the brain interprets the signals as sound.
With most cases of noise-induced hearing loss, there is injury to the cilia. As a consequence, the incoming signal to the brain is weaker and sounds appear softer or muffled. But not all sound frequencies are uniformly impaired. Typically, the higher-pitched sounds, such as speech, are affected to a greater extent.
In a noisy setting, like a restaurant, your capacity to hear speech is reduced because your brain is obtaining a diminished signal for high-frequency sounds. On top of that, background noise, which is low-frequency, is getting through normally, drowning out the speech.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
You can see that the solution is not merely amplifying all sound. If you were to do that, you’d just continue drowning out speech as the background noise becomes louder in proportion to the speech sounds.
The solution is selective amplification of only the frequencies you have a hard time hearing. And that is only achievable by having your hearing professionally tested and your hearing aids professionally programmed to boost these particular frequencies.
How Hearing Aids Selectively Amplify Sound
Modern hearing aids contain five interior parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just simple amplifiers—they’re sophisticated electronic devices that alter the properties of sound.
This occurs via the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is one-of-a-kind, like a fingerprint, and so the frequencies you need amplified will differ. The incredible part is, those frequencies can be found precisely with a professional hearing test, technically known as an audiogram.
Once your hearing professional has these numbers, your hearing aid can be custom-programmed to amplify the frequencies you have the most trouble with, boosting speech recognition in the process.
Here’s how it works: the hearing aid receives sound in the environment with the microphone and transfers the sound to the computer chip. The computer chip then translates the sound into digital information so that it can differentiate between assorted frequencies.
Then, based upon the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are amplified, the low-frequency background sounds are repressed, and the refined sound is delivered to your ear via the speaker.
So will your hearing return completely to normal?
While your hearing will not entirely go back to normal, that shouldn’t prevent you from accomplishing significant gains in your hearing. For most people, the amplification provided is all they need to understand speech and participate in effective and effortless communication.
Think about it in this way. If your eye doctor told you they could improve your vision from 20/80 to 20/25, would you forfeit prescription glasses because you couldn’t get to 20/20? Absolutely not; you’d be able to function just fine with 20/25 vision and the gain from 20/80 would be substantial.
Are you ready to find out the gains you can attain with modern hearing aids? Call us today!