Hearing aids have come a long way since the days when they simply made everything painfully loud for your grandfather. Those hearing aids tended to be bulky and cumbersome, often painful to wear, and distracting with all of their audible screeches and whistles. Today’s hearing aids come in a variety of sizes and styles, and provide correction that your grandfather could have only dreamed about. Hearing aids aren’t magic, just a mix of basic parts and technology that can feel magical in helping you hear sounds you thought were gone forever.
Digital versus Analog
Analog hearing aids amplify sound, and are the older version of hearing aids. Some analog hearing aids can be programmed with different settings, so that you can adjust them for crowded rooms, or conversation, or hearing the television. Digital hearing aids are a more recent version of hearing aids, and are a vast improvement over the analog devices. Analog devices may still be available, but are being replaced by the technology of digital devices. Digital hearing aids have a computer chip and act like mini computers in your ears- they adjust for many situations, analyzing the sounds coming in and how your ears are processing them. They can soften background noises and raise the sounds that you want to hear, like voices closest to you. Digital hearing aids can adjust according to the pitch of certain noises, so that the higher pitch of sounds like certain consonants, which often go unheard with hearing loss, can be heard more clearly.
Mechanics of a Hearing Aid
Hearing aids catch and receive sound with a microphone. The sounds are then converted to electrical waves or currents and sent into the ear canal to the amplifier. The amplifier simply makes the sounds louder, increasing the power of the signal as they head toward the speaker. The speaker takes the amplified sound currents, changes them back into sounds, and sends the sound impulses to the brain. Batteries, usually tiny zinc or rechargeable batteries, provide the energy source for the hearing aid, and can be half the size of your pinky nail.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are several different types of hearing aids, which mean there are options that can be a good fit for anyone. Whether your concern is keeping them out of sight, making sure they are comfortable, or having them be easy for a child to take care of, the various types promise a fit for everyone.
Behind the Ear
Behind-the-Ear, or BTE, hearing aids literally fit behind the ear, with a plastic earmold that fits into the ear. This option works well for all levels of hearing loss, from moderate to severe loss, and is great for all ages. BTE models tend to be durable, with their hard plastic parts, and come in every color under the rainbow.
Mini Behind the Ear, or Open-Fit BTE
Similar to the BTE model, Mini BTE hearing aids also fit behind the ear. They tend to be smaller in size, and less visible. Instead of a plastic earmold, the Mini BTE models have a thin tube that goes into the ear. This type is also good for all levels of hearing loss, and often is a good fit for people who don’t like the sensation of their ears being plugged by more conventional devices.
In the Ear
In-the-Ear hearing aids, also known as ITE devices, are hard plastic hearing aids that are uniquely molded to fit the individual’s inner ear. All of the components are inside the device, so that they are almost invisible to see. ITE hearing aids can be used for moderate to severe hearing loss, but are not recommended for growing children. They are small, easy to misplace, and also might have to be replaced several times if children are growing.
In the Canal
This option fits completely into the ear canal, and is the smallest and least visible hearing aid. Because they are so small, ITC hearing aids are recommended for moderate hearing loss. They have limited space for batteries, and less power than some of their larger counterparts. THese hearing aids are ideal for people who don’t want those around them to know they are wearing a hearing aid.
Knowing some of the basics about hearing aids can help you determine what device might be best for you, and help you understand how they can assist you in hearing all of those sounds that you thought were gone forever. Whether you choose a Behind-the-Ear aid or a hearing aid that is completely hidden in your ear canal, the technology that can help you enjoy conversations and everyday life again is a fascinating one!