What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so you can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities.

A hearing aid can help people hear better in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses 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.

How can hearing aids help?

Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving the hearing and speech comprehension 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 medications.

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. In those cases, a Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) or Cochlear Implant might be needed.

How can I find out if I need a hearing aid?

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 audiologist.

An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose, and throat disorders and will investigate the cause of the hearing loss.

An audiologist 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.

Are there different styles of hearing aids?

There are three basic styles of hearing aids. The styles differ by size, their placement on or inside the ear, and the degree to which they amplify sound (see figure). See our section on hearing aids for examples of each style.

Do all hearing aids work the same way?

Hearing aids work differently depending on the electronics used. The two main types of electronics are analog and digital.

Analog aids convert sound waves into electrical signals, which are 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/programmable 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/programmable circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids. Analog aids usually are less expensive than digital 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.

Which hearing aid will work best for me?

The hearing aid that will work best for you depends on the kind and severity of your hearing loss. If you have a hearing loss in both of your ears, two hearing aids are generally recommended because two aids provide a more natural signal to the brain. Hearing in both ears also will help you understand speech and locate where the sound is coming from.

You and your audiologist should select a hearing aid that best suits your needs and lifestyle. Price is also a key consideration because hearing aids range from hundreds to several thousand dollars, depending on size, style, and features.

Your audiologist can explain the benefits and costs of each available model and help you decide which best fits your needs.

A hearing aid won’t completely restore your normal hearing. With practice, however, you will adjust to your new way of hearing. You will want to wear your hearing aid regularly, so select one that is convenient and easy for you to use.

What questions should I ask before buying a hearing aid?

Before you buy a hearing aid, ask your audiologist these important questions:

  • What features would be most useful to me?
  • What is the total cost of the hearing aid? Do the benefits of newer technologies outweigh the higher costs?
  • Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids? (Most manufacturers allow a 30-to 60-day trial period during which aids can be returned for a refund.) Which fees are non-refundable if the aids are returned after the trial period?
  • How long is the warranty? Can it be extended? Does the warranty cover future maintenance and repairs?
  • Can the audiologist make adjustments and provide servicing and minor repairs? Will loaner aids be provided when repairs are needed?
  • What instruction does the audiologist provide?

How can I adjust to my hearing aid?

Hearing aids take time and patience to use successfully. Wearing your aids regularly will help you adjust to them.

Become familiar with your hearing aid’s features. Your audiologist should help you practice putting in and taking out the aid, cleaning it, identifying right and left aids, and replacing the batteries. They will explain how to test it in listening environments where you have problems with hearing and teach you to adjust the volume and to program it for different environments. Work with your audiologist until you are comfortable and satisfied. As you adjust to your new hearing aid, be sure to let your audiologist know if you have any concerns.

How can I care for my hearing aid?

Proper maintenance and care will extend the life of your hearing aid. Make it a habit to:

  • Keep hearing aids away from heat and moisture.
  • Clean hearing aids as instructed. Earwax and ear drainage can damage a hearing aid.
  • Avoid using hairspray or other hair care products while wearing hearing aids.
  • Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
  • Replace dead batteries immediately.
  • Keep replacement batteries and hearing aids away from children and pets.

Can I obtain financial assistance for a hearing aid?

Hearing aids are generally not covered by health insurance companies, although some are. 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 Washington’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 policies are met.

For Veterans, we work with VA Choice to provide free hearing aids to eligible veterans.  To determine eligibility, please call the Eligibility and Enrollment office at (800) 329-8387 and press *76524. Once VA Choice determines that you are eligible to receive hearing aids from our office, a VA Choice representative will call our office to set up an appointment for the hearing aid evaluation.

What research is being done on hearing aids?

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's the best possible match to the remaining hearing for a hearing aid user. The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has also funded researchers who 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.

 

 Additional questions? Contact the staff at Olympic Hearing Center in Sequim Washington today.