Small digital hearing aid in hand

Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too lengthy or complex, creating more confusion rather than less.

My guess is that you’re much less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the intricacies of acoustical engineering and much more interested in finding the best technology at an affordable price. Your intent is to hear better, not to read a 10-page manual.

If that describes you, then you’ll welcome this simple 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 find the technology that’s right for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are a number of brands and seemingly limitless factors to consider. But it’s not as complex as it seems. As you move forward through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids function generally the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone registers environmental sound and transfers it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then directed to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the individual has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next sent to the speaker.
  4. The speaker delivers the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

In addition, all hearing aids contain a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two significant ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll cover 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 sit behind the ear. The case is then attached to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and clean, normally have an extended battery life, and can handle 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 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 partly or completely inside of the ear canal, making them almost or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the curves of the ear, and some types can be used for several months at a time.

When selecting a style, weigh the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and determine the appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve chosen the most suitable style, you can figure out which of the following features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones permit you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the disruption 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 enhance hearing based upon your environment, for instance in a quiet room at home as opposed to in a bustling restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as TVs, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones turns your hearing aids into top-notch wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from the phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning kits, 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.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids

Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with sufficient 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 selection of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two facets with your hearing professional and your options will become manageable.
  3. Set 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 a reasonable price.
  4. Test drive your new hearing aids. Ask about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to establish realistic expectations and give your hearing aids an opportunity to perform well. Your perseverance will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What seems like a complicated process is in fact easily manageable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and limit your choices. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the perks of better hearing.