Hearing Aids – What You Need to Know

A hearing aid is a discreet electronic device placed behind or inside the ear. It amplifies sound so that individuals with hearing loss can regain some function. Many hearing aid types are available, and a specialized Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist like Dr. Boger can assist in choosing the correct hearing aid to meet your needs. Depending on the extent of your hearing loss, you may wish to compare hearing aids, cochlear implants, and bone-anchored implants.

How Hearing Aids Work

All hearing aids share the same fundamental components, which capture sounds and amplify them in the ear. Most modern hearing aids are digital, powered either by single-use or rechargeable hearing aid batteries.

The hearing aid’s small microphone gathers sounds, which are then processed by a computer chip containing an amplifier. The chip converts the sounds into digital code.

The device’s chip further analyzes and adjusts the sounds based on the degree of hearing loss, listening requirements, and ambient noise levels. The adjusted and amplified signals are then converted back into sound waves transmitted into the ears through speakers commonly referred to as receivers.

Hearing Aid Styles

Hearing aids come in various styles, differing in size, price, features, and how they fit in the ear. Manufacturers continually work to meet consumer demand for less conspicuous models, though smaller aids often compromise on power and might not deliver the hearing improvement some users expect.

Completely in the Canal (CIC) or Mini CIC

CIC hearing aids are tailored to fit entirely within the ear canal. Their design makes them wonderfully discreet and are a good choice for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.

Advantages: Minimal visibility; reduced wind noise interference.

Disadvantages: Short battery life due to small batteries; lack of advanced features like volume control; prone to clogging by earwax.

In the Canal (ITC)

An ITC hearing aid is custom-molded to fit partly within the ear canal and balances feature-set with visibility. The hearing device is suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss.

Advantages: Less visible, some added features over CIC models.

Disadvantages: It can be tricky to adjust due to size and is still vulnerable to earwax.
In the Ear (ITE)

The ITE hearing aid is available in two styles: an entire shell that fills most of the outer ear and a half shell that fills just the lower part. The designs are beneficial for people with mild to severe hearing loss.

Advantages: Easier to handle; longer battery life; optional directional microphones.
Disadvantages: More visible; more susceptible to wind noise, earwax clogging.

Behind the Ear (BTE)

The BTE hearing aid hooks over the top of the ear and rests behind it. The device is connected to a custom ear mold inside the ear canal and is suitable for almost all ages and types of hearing loss.

Advantages: Provides remarkably high amplification; optional directional microphones; newer mini designs are less visible.

Disadvantages: More visible traditional design; potential for more wind noise; some models offer rechargeable batteries.

Receiver in Canal or Receiver in the Ear (RIC/RITE)

The RIC/RITE hearing aid is comparable to the BTE but with the speaker or receiver in the ear canal. It is then connected by a thin wire instead of tubing.

Advantages: Less conspicuous behind-the-ear part, manual controls, available with rechargeable batteries.

Disadvantages: Prone to clogging by ear wax

Open Fit

The open-fit hearing aid is a form of BTE. However, it features a thin tube or an open dome in the ear, making it suitable for individuals with better low-frequency hearing and mild to moderate high-frequency hearing loss.

Advantages: Does not occlude the ear canal, allowing for a more normal sound perception, which makes the wearer’s voice sound more natural to themselves.

Disadvantages: It can be more visible and sometimes more problematic to insert due to a non-custom dome.

Each hearing aid style offers unique benefits and drawbacks; choosing the right style often depends on the severity of hearing loss, lifestyle considerations, and personal aesthetics.

Addressing Hearing Issues with a Hearing Aid

Purchasing hearing aids is not as straightforward as making a quick online purchase. You’ll need to undergo a hearing test and consult a specialist to determine the type of aid that best fits your needs.

Undergoing a Hearing Test

If you suspect any level of hearing loss, scheduling a diagnostic hearing test is the best first step. The test will precisely assess your hearing capabilities and determine if a hearing aid is the right choice to treat your condition.

A comprehensive ear and hearing examination can also reveal other issues impacting your ability to hear correctly, such as earwax buildup, infection, or injury.

After the hearing test, you might be referred to an otolaryngologist—an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist for additional testing.

Consulting an otolaryngologist is particularly recommended if you experience:

Benefits and Considerations of Hearing Aids

As with all things, hearing aids have benefits and risks. You’ll need to weigh all considerations before determining if a hearing aid is the right choice to help correct your hearing loss.

Benefits of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids provide significant benefits for individuals with hearing loss to enhance daily interactions and overall quality of life. Patients with hearing loss often feel isolated and hearing aids can often provide a vehicle for more fulfilling relationships. Hearing aids also:

  • Enhance hearing across various environments.
  • Boost communication abilities.
  • Improve listening comprehension.
  • Increase independence.
  • Alleviate symptoms of tinnitus, such as ringing in the ears.

Considerations of Hearing Aids

While hearing aids effectively amplify sounds, they do not cure hearing loss or restore hearing to normal levels. They are designed to maximize the wearer’s existing hearing capacity. Some thoughts to remember include:

  • They require an adjustment period, which can last several months as the wearer acclimatizes to the new auditory input.
  • The wearer’s voice might sound unusually loud for several weeks.
  • Periodic visits to an audiologist may be necessary for programming adjustments to ensure the hearing aid performs optimally in different settings.
  • Hearing aids can be costly, potentially presenting a financial challenge.

Hearing aids are valuable for managing hearing loss, though they come with challenges requiring commitment and adaptation.

Hearing Aid Care

Our office will outline specific hearing aid care recommendations. Maintaining your hearing aids is crucial to ensure their longevity and effectiveness. You will be provided with specific instructions tailored to your device, but here are some universal tips:

  • Always clean hearing aids as directed.
  • Keep hearing aids away from extreme heat and moisture.
  • Avoid using hair spray near the hearing aid.
  • Turn hearing aids off when not in use to help conserve battery life.
  • Replace batteries promptly when needed.
  • Schedule annual visits with an audiologist for adjustments and recalibration.

The Lifespan of Hearing Aids

Modern hearing aids are designed to adapt to changes in hearing ability, meaning adjustments can often be made without needing a new device. In most situations, a hearing aid can last between six to seven years, depending on how well they are cared for and the extent of use. Regular check-ups with an audiologist will ensure that your hearing aid continues to meet your hearing needs effectively.

Next Steps

If you are experiencing hearing loss or your existing hearing aids are not performing as well as expected, we encourage you to contact our office to learn more and consult with Dr. Boger about your options.