Hearing aids

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A hearing aid is a small electronic device that makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.

The first hearing aids were mechanical cones, which were held near the speaker's mouth. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, the electrical hearing aid was born. But because battery cells were big and heavy, these first hearing aids were carted along in a wheelbarrow! The invention of the integrated circuit (IC) changed all that.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Hearing aids improve the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss.
  • Proper use and application of hearing aids does not cause any further damage to a person's hearing power.
  • Wearing a hearing aid will make a real difference to the wearers' quality of life.
  • However, hearing aid does not necessarily make sounds perfectly clear. A person might still find it difficult to follow what people are saying in noisy places. Some hearing aids reduce certain background noises.
  • If a person has hissing, buzzing or other noise in their ears or head - they may hear it less with a hearing aid.
  • There are practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. Thus hearing aids might not be helpful to those whose inner ear is too damaged to convert magnified sound vibrations into appropriate signals.
  • A hearing aid will not restore a person's normal hearing. With practice, however, a hearing aid will increase his awareness of sounds and their sources.
  • Hearing aid should be worn regularly.
  • Hearing aids have been around for decades. Instead of being viewed as the useful devices they were meant to be, they became the butt of jokes. Though the attitude has improved, hearing aids are still not as accepted as spectacles.
  • Even now people avoid wearing hearing aids because they do not want to "look old" or "feel old."

All about hearing aids

Hearing aids make sounds louder and clearer for those suffering from hearing impairment of any kind. They are battery-operated and usually worn in or around the ear.

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.

Who needs hearing aids?

  • Hearing aids are primarily useful to those who are suffering from hearing loss which has been caused by damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells.
  • This type of hearing loss is can occur as a result of disease, aging, or injury from noise or certain medicines.
  • It is also useful for those who experience a decline in their ability to hear with increasing age. The process of growing old makes it more and more difficult for the hearing nerve to carry the sound signals from the ear to the brain where sound is perceived and understood.
  • If you think you might have hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid, visit your physician, who will refer you to a specialist to investigate the cause of the hearing loss. The specialist will perform a hearing test to assess the type and degree of loss.

How does a hearing aid work?

  • A hearing aid magnifies sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert it into signals that are passed onto the brain.
  • The greater the damage to a person’s hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference.

Types of hearing aids

Hearing aids can be classified on the basis of their placement or the technology they use.

There are three basic styles of hearing aids on the basis of placement.

  1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) -- BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss.
  2. Open-fit hearing aid -- Open-fit hearing aid are a new kind of BTE aid which fit snugly behind the ear and have only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal, enabling the canal to remain open. These are a good choice for people who experience a buildup of earwax. Moreover in this type of hearing aid, the perception of their voice does not sound “plugged up.”
  3. In-the-ear (ITE)-- These hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear and are used for mild to severe hearing loss.

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

  1. Analog aids -- These convert sound waves into electrical signals, which are amplified. Analog/adjustable hearing aids are custom built to meet the needs of each user. Analog aids usually are less expensive than digital aids.
  2. Digital aids -- These 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.

Choosing a hearing aid

  • Decide on the hearing aid in consultation with a specialist and an audiologist.
  • The hearing aid that will work best for a person depends on the nature and severity of their hearing loss.
  • If a person suffers from hearing loss in both the ears, two hearing aids are generally recommended.
  • Just because one hearing aid is more expensive than another does not necessarily mean that it will better suit a user's needs.

What can I do?

  • Select a hearing aid that is convenient and easy to use.
  • Check out the availability of parts, services covered by the warranty, estimated schedule and costs for maintenance and repair, options and upgrade opportunities, and the hearing aid company’s reputation for quality and customer service.

Useful tips

  • 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 small aids away from children and pets.

Unlearn

  • There is a myth that hearing aids damage hearing. A properly fitted and maintained hearing aid does not damage your hearing.
  • People defer using a hearing aid thinking that their hearing loss is not bad enough for a hearing aid.
  • Some believe that the invisible hearing aids worn in the ear are the best hearing aids to purchase. This is not true. A person should purchase a hearing aid that accommodates their hearing loss and your listening needs.

References

  • Hearing Aids …and the deaf shall hear
  • Hearing aid NIDC
  • About hearing aid