Naturally, we get a lot of questions about hearing loss, hearing aids, and everything related to hearing healthcare. We love talking with our patients about any questions that may arise for them as they navigate the world of hearing aid technology. Below we’ve listed some of the questions we hear most frequently. If your question is not answered below, we encourage you to reach out to us directly. We look forward to hearing from you!
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 use 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.
Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech understanding of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss. The damage can occur as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicines.
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.
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 a hearing care professional. An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders and will investigate the cause of the hearing loss. A hearing care professional 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.
Yes. Among the many styles of hearing aids now available to patients, there are very discreet options. Levels of discretion vary between the different styles. These include hearing aids that sit in the ear canal and are hardly noticeable unless someone is looking for them.
Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids – While not typically thought of as discreet, most behind-the-ear and receiver-in-canal hearing aids are now designed to be very slim. They sit discreetly behind your ear and can be matched to your hair or skin color.
In-the-Ear Hearing Aids – In-the-ear hearing aids sit right at the opening of your ear canal and are custom fit to fill the entire outer ear. These aids are visible, but can be matched to your skin color to look less noticeable.
Canal Hearing Aids – This is the most discreet style of hearing aid available to patients. You have the option of hearing aids that sit just inside your ear canal, or completely in your ear canal.
Not all styles of hearing aids are suitable for every type of hearing loss. To find out which style of hearing aids is most appropriate for your loss, contact us today! We look forward to hearing from you.
Hearing aids work differently depending on the electronics used. The two main types of electronics are analog and digital.
Analog Hearing Aids – Analog aids convert sound waves into electrical signals which are then amplified. Analog/adjustable hearing aids are custom built to meet the needs of each user. The aid is programmed by the manufacturer according to the specifications recommended by your audiologist. Analog/adjustable hearing aids have more than one program or setting. An audiologist can program the aid using a computer, and the user can change the program for different listening environments – from a small, quiet room to a crowded restaurant to large, open areas, such as a theater or stadium. Analog/adjustable circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids. Analog aids usually are less expensive than digital aids.
Digital Hearing Aids – Digital aids convert sound waves into numerical codes, similar to the binary code of a computer, before amplifying them. Because the code also includes information about a sound’s pitch or loudness, the aid can be specially programmed to amplify some frequencies more than others. Digital circuitry gives an audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the aid to a user’s needs and to certain listening environments. These aids also can be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a specific direction. Digital circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids.
Hearing aids take time and patience to use successfully. Wearing your aids regularly will help you adjust to them, and it helps to become familiar with your hearing aid’s features. With your audiologist present, practice putting in and taking out the aid, cleaning it, identifying the right and left aids, and replacing the batteries. Ask how to test it in listening environments where you have problems with hearing. Learn to adjust the aid’s volume and to program it for sounds that are too loud or too soft. Work with your audiologist until you are comfortable and satisfied.
You may experience some of the following problems as you adjust to wearing your new aid:
- My hearing aid feels uncomfortable. Some individuals may find a hearing aid to be slightly uncomfortable at first. Ask your hearing aid specialist how long you should wear your hearing aid while you are adjusting to it.
- My voice sounds too loud. The “plugged-up” sensation that causes a hearing aid user’s voice to sound louder inside the head is called the occlusion effect, and it is very common for new hearing aid users. Check with your hearing aid specialist to see if a correction is possible. Most individuals get used to this effect over time.
- I get feedback from my hearing aid. A whistling sound can be caused by a hearing aid that does not fit or work well or is clogged by earwax or fluid. See your hearing aid specialist for adjustments.
- I hear background noise. A hearing aid does not completely separate the sounds you want to hear from the ones you do not want to hear. Sometimes, however, the hearing aid may need to be adjusted. Talk with your hearing aid specialist to get help with this issue.
- I hear a buzzing sound when I use my cell phone. Some people who wear hearing aids or have implanted hearing devices experience problems with the radio frequency interference caused by digital cell phones. Both hearing aids and cell phones are improving, however, so these problems are occurring less often. When you are being fitted for a new hearing aid, take your cell phone with you to see if it will work well with the aid.
Hearing aids are generally not covered by health insurance companies, although some do. Financing is usually available. For eligible children and young adults ages 21 and under, Medicaid will pay for the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss, including hearing aids, under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) service. Also, children may be covered by their state’s early intervention program or State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).
Medicare does not cover hearing aids for adults; however, diagnostic evaluations are covered if they are ordered by a physician for the purpose of assisting the physician in developing a treatment plan. Since Medicare has declared the BAHA a prosthetic device and not a hearing aid, Medicare will cover the BAHA if other coverage requirements are met.
Researchers are looking at ways to apply new signal processing strategies to the design of hearing aids. Signal processing is the method used to modify normal sound waves into amplified sound that is the best possible match to the remaining hearing for a hearing aid user. NIDCD-funded researchers also are studying how hearing aids can enhance speech signals to improve understanding.
In addition, researchers are investigating the use of computer-aided technology to design and manufacture better hearing aids. Researchers also are seeking ways to improve sound transmission and to reduce noise interference, feedback, and the occlusion effect. Additional studies focus on the best ways to select and fit hearing aids in children and other groups whose hearing ability is hard to test.
Another promising research focus is to use lessons learned from animal models to design better microphones for hearing aids. NIDCD-supported scientists are studying the tiny fly Ormia ochracea because its ear structure allows the fly to determine the source of a sound easily. Scientists are using the fly’s ear structure as a model for designing miniature directional microphones for hearing aids. These microphones amplify the sound coming from a particular direction (usually the direction a person is facing), but not the sounds that arrive from other directions. Directional microphones hold great promise for making it easier for people to hear a single conversation, even when surrounded by other noises and voices.