Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but the majority are not quite reader-friendly, either. Many are simply too lengthy or complicated, adding more perplexity 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 more interested in finding the best technology at a fair price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.

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

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly endless factors to consider. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. As you move forward through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function basically the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone picks up external sound and sends it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised sound signal is then transferred to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next delivered to the speaker.
  4. The speaker presents the magnified sound to the ear, resulting in louder, clearer sound.

In addition, all hearing aids contain 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 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 easy to handle and clean, typically have an extended battery life, and can manage severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the outer 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 renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less detectable 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, causing them to be nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some can be worn for several months at a time.

When choosing a style, think about the tradeoffs among ease of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care professional will help you prioritize your preferences and find the most appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve chosen the right style, you can identify which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to concentrate on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while decreasing the interruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while minimizing the static induced by by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based upon your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home versus 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-notch wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be regulated from the phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly 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 on which 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 adequate experience can examine your hearing accurately, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Discuss these two factors with your hearing specialist and your options will become manageable.
  3. Establish a budget. Some would assert that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing professional can find the right hearing aid at an acceptable price.
  4. Test drive your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to set sensible expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to work. Your patience will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What may seem like a complicated process is in reality easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can uncover the right technology at the right price—so you can start making the most of all of the benefits of better hearing.