Types of Hearing Aids
Hearing aids are devices which when placed either behind or inside your ear, helps improve your bodyâ€™s ability to receive and interpret sounds. These devices assist people with hearing issues to hear better in noisy and quieter environments. For people with hearing loss this is a crucial device. It not only helps them to hear better but also to listen better, communicate effectively, participate in discussions and fit right in. Without hearing aids, such persons would feel uncomfortable and left out.
So it is agreed; hearing aids improve the quality of life for people with hearing loss. Unfortunately, very few people with this problem actually get to acquire and use one of these devices. This can be due to a number of reasons including:
- The high cost of the devices
- Lack of information and education regarding options available
- Incorrect diagnosis and treatment plans
In order to understand the various types of hearing aids available in the market, it is vital that I explain a few things. First is what constitutes a hearing aid. They are:
- A microphone â€“ this is essentially how the hearing aid receives sound
- An amplifier â€“ receives electrical signals from the microphone and magnifies the sound
- A speaker â€“ sends the magnified electrical signals to the ear from the amplifier
With this understanding, let us now look at the various types of hearing aids we have in the market today.
Invisible Hearing Aids
Hearing aids have come a very long way since they were first invented in the mid-20th century. We now have in the market hearing aids which are completely unnoticeable from the exterior of your ear. They are referred to as invisible hearing aids.
If you have heard your doctor or ENT specialist talking about IIC hearing aids, you may have a vague concept of what invisible hearing devices are. Invisible-in-the-canal hearing aids are discreet and customized for every user. An earmould of your ear is used to make one specifically for you.
Remember that the type of hearing aid you use depends on a number of factors including the level of hearing loss you suffer from. IICs are great for patients with mild up to moderate hearing loss.
There are other invisible hearing aids for people with severe hearing loss. All you have to do to find out which works for you is to have tests carried out by your specialist.
Bone Conduction Hearing Aid
Bone conduction hearing aids are designed specifically to help people with conductive, unilateral or mixed hearing loss. Experts classify hearing loss into four categories:
- Conductive hearing loss
- Auditory processing disorder
- Mixed hearing loss
If you have to use the bone conduction hearing aids, then it means that other types of devices would simply not improve your hearing.
So how exactly does the bone conduction hearing aid work? Well, it produces vibrations which then travel over the skull to the inner ear. In the inner ear, the part called the cochlea identifies the vibration as a sound. These hearing aids should however not be confused with the bone conduction hearing devices, which are implants.
Digital Hearing Aids
There are analog and digital hearing aids. Of the two, digital hearing aids are superior. The digitization is targeted to one component of the aid and that is the amplifier. The amplifier in a digital hearing aid is basically a micro-computer. Here are some of the things it is able to do:
- Feedback cancellation
- Music programs
- Directional microphones
- Noise management
One common characteristic of these devices is that they whistle all by themselves. We call this feedback. Now, while analog hearing aids used rudimentary methods to cancel this out (like blocking the ear or reducing loudness for certain frequencies), digital hearing aids get rid of feedback even before you hear it. Soft speech still remains audible to you as the device user.
While both music and speech are perceived as sound, they are actually very different. Earlier hearing aids treated all sounds the same but new generation hearing aids are able to decipher the difference between the two.
Directional microphones are a very useful feature of digital hearing aids. They help you to zero in only on those sounds that you want to hear while fading out the rest. While this feature was available in analog aids, you would have to press a button to activate it. The function is automated in digital hearing aids and the device can actually detect the direction from which the sound is coming.
Digital hearing aids have the ability to wirelessly connect to a lot of devices. This function is especially useful for taking calls because you can hear them directly through the aid. You can also enjoy TV and music using the connectivity function.
Noise Cancelling Hearing Aids
We usually recommend noise cancelling hearing aids so that our patients can be comfortable no matter their surroundings. If you are at a very busy venue or in a place with soft but repetitive and annoying sounds, these types of aids will help.
Unlike the analog aids that make everything louder, digital noise cancelling hearing aids allow you to customize what you want to hear. As the user you have more control. Soft environmental sounds such as an AC humming or a refrigerator running will not be amplified by the noise cancelling hearing aid. Loud noises are automatically turned down.
Research into hearing aids is fast evolving and researchers are already looking into developing programs which allow you to self-test for the type of hearing aid you need. The cost of testing and acquiring hearing aids is still quite high. Such a program would cut down the cost of purchasing hearing aids by a significant amount.
Computer aided testing is the future of hearing aids with lots of trials already ongoing. A lot has changed over the years and more is still to come. Visit our website to get more information about what options are available for you in terms of examination and prescription.