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 complex, resulting in more confusion rather than less.

My guess is that you’re a great deal less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the intricacies of acoustical engineering and more interested in locating the most suitable technology at a reasonable price. Your intent is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll appreciate this brief guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small sections, and when we’re done, you’ll be prepared 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

Choosing a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly endless considerations. But it’s really 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 basic parts:

  1. The microphone picks up environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor adjusts the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised sound signal is then transmitted to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the person has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is then delivered 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 buttons, and remote controls.

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

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three principal styles:

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

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill 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 within the ear canal, which makes them nearly or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some types can be used for several months at a time.

When deciding on a style, weigh the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and identify the best suited style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve settled upon the most suitable style, you can decide which of the following advanced 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 lessening the distraction of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while cutting down on the static brought about by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home as opposed to in a busy 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 transforms your hearing aids into top-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from your phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight 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 decide which hearing aid accessories you may need or want.

Selecting the Right Hearing Aids

Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with appropriate experience can evaluate your hearing properly, which is crucial 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 function. Discuss these two facets with your hearing expert and your options will become manageable.
  3. Set a budget. Some would proclaim that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t imply 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. Test drive 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 rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What seems to be a complex process is in reality easily manageable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can find the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start making the most of all of the perks of better hearing.