What is a hearing aid?
A hearing aid makes sounds louder. There are many different styles of hearing aids. And you can add special features to your hearing aids. But all hearing aids have these parts:
- A microphone, to pick up sound.
- An amplifier, to make the sound louder.
- A speaker, to deliver the sound into the ear.
What should I do if I think I need a hearing aid?
If you think you have a hearing problem and are thinking about getting a hearing aid, see your doctor. If your doctor thinks you may need a hearing aid, another type of specialist (audiologist) can help determine what type of hearing aid will work best for you. The audiologist will pick a hearing aid based on the type and how much hearing loss you have and other factors. He or she can help you learn how to get the most out of your hearing aid. In general, it usually is better to wear hearing aids in both ears, even if the hearing loss in the ears is not equal.
Hearing aids need to be fitted by someone trained specifically in hearing problems. An audiologist or licensed hearing aid provider can make sure your hearing aids fit and work for your type and degree of hearing loss.
You also need to consider cost. Hearing aids can be expensive, and they are not always covered by insurance. Be sure to ask about a return policy, in case you are not satisfied with the hearing aid, and any warranties.
What are the different types and styles of hearing aids?
Hearing aids differ in how they look, their size, where they are placed in the ear, and how much they can amplify sounds.
Most hearing aids use digital technology. They are programmed for your needs using a computer. But some hearing aids use analog technology.
The size of a hearing aid is not a good indicator of its sound quality.
You can wear hearing aids behind your ear, in your outer ear, or in your ear canal. The kind of hearing aid you choose depends on many things, including your degree of hearing loss, your doctor's advice, and what kind of hearing aid you want. See a picture of different styles of hearing aids.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid: Most parts of the BTE hearing aid are in a case that fits behind the ear. The case is connected to a plastic ear mold by a clear tube that wraps around the top of your ear. BTE hearing aids are used for all degrees of hearing loss, especially very severe hearing loss. BTE hearing aids can be made with special features, such as a telecoil that helps with hearing during phone calls and a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. They may be better for children because of safety and growth reasons.
- "Mini" BTE (or on-the-ear) hearing aid: The mini BTE is a smaller version of the BTE hearing aid. The parts are in a case behind the ear, but the case is smaller. And the tube connecting the case to the earpiece is almost invisible. Some mini BTE aids can have a very small earpiece that doesn't completely fill the ear canal. These are called "open fit" ear pieces. These ear pieces are less visible than the ear molds used with BTE hearing aids. Also, they reduce the feeling of fullness in the ear and can be more comfortable to wear.
- In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid: The parts of the ITE hearing aid are in a case that fits in the outer part of the ear. It can be used by people who have mild to severe hearing loss. ITE hearing aids can be made with special features, such as a telecoil that improves hearing during phone calls and a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. ITE hearing aids can be easier to handle than the smaller ITC and CIC hearing aids. Children do not usually use them because the case must be replaced as the child grows.
- In-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids: The parts of the ITC and CIC hearing aids are in a case that fits partly or completely into the ear canal. ITC and CIC hearing aids are used by people with mild to moderate hearing loss. They are made to fit the shape and the size of your ear canal. ITC hearing aids can be made with special features such as a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. Both ITC and CIC hearing aids can be damaged by earwax and fluid draining from the ear, and their small size may be difficult for some people to handle. They are not recommended for children.
Special features can be added to your hearing aids to help you hear even better.
- Directional microphone: This feature can help you hear better in a noisy place. A directional microphone will make sound coming from one direction louder than other sounds. For example, a directional microphone will make a person's voice coming from in front of you louder than sounds coming from behind you. This can help you have a conversation in a noisy restaurant.
- T-coil: A t-coil lets you switch between normal hearing aid settings and a telephone setting. This will help you hear better on a regular telephone.
- Direct audio input: This feature lets you connect your hearing aid to a TV, radio, or CD player. You plug it directly into your hearing aid.
- Feedback suppression: This feature will control the high-pitched sound some people get with hearing aids (feedback). Feedback happens most when a hearing aid gets close to a telephone or if your hearing aid is loose in your ear.
Disposable hearing aids that you use for a short period of time are also available. They last for 30 to 60 days. They may be an option for those who have mild to moderate hearing loss.
Will it be hard to adjust to a hearing aid?
It may take from several weeks to months for you to get used to your hearing aid. You may find that:
- Sounds seem strange. It's good to remember that hearing aids will not make you hear like you used to. And nothing will ever sound completely normal. If noises are so strange or shrill that they are distracting you, tell your hearing aid provider before you leave the office.
- You hear things you haven't heard in a long time. For example, you may hear background noises (rustling papers, clinking silverware) much more clearly.
- You are more aware of sounds close to you. Your footsteps, heartbeat, or car motor may be much more noticeable. With time, your brain will get better at ignoring these sounds.
- Your hearing aid can be uncomfortable. But it should not be painful. Before you leave the hearing aid provider's office with your new hearing aids, make sure they fit. Your hearing aid should not hurt your ear or be loose in your ear.
- Sometimes your hearing aid will make a buzzing noise when you use a cell phone. This noise can be annoying, and it can make it hard to hear the person on the phone. If you use a cell phone, make sure your hearing aid provider knows. He or she can suggest hearing aids that work better with cell phones. And when you buy a new cell phone, buy one that is compatible with hearing aids.
Here are some general tips to help you adjust to your new hearing aid.
- Start by wearing your hearing aid when you are talking to only one person. These are the easiest conversations to understand. Slowly work up to conversations with more than one person.
- Continue to pay attention to people's gestures, facial expressions, posture, and tone of voice. Your hearing aid won't help you catch every word that is said, especially in a loud place.
- Wear your hearing aid. The more you wear it, especially at the beginning, the faster you will get used to it.
Other Works Consulted
- Bogardus ST Jr, et al. (2003). Screening and management of adult hearing loss in primary care: Clinical applications. JAMA, 289(15): 1986–1990.
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders (2006). Ten Ways to Recognize Hearing Loss. Available online: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/10ways.asp.
- Sweetow RW, Cascia T (2008). Aural rehabilitation and hearing aids. In AK Lalwani, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, pp. 705–712. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Yeuh B, et al. (2003). Screening and management of adult hearing loss in primary care: Scientific review. JAMA, 289(15): 1976–1985.
|Editor||Kathleen M. Ariss, MS|
|Associate Editor||Pat Truman, MATC|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Donald R. Mintz, MD - Otolaryngology|
|Last Updated||April 22, 2009|