Choosing the Right Hearing Aid
If you are experiencing a hearing loss, odds are good that you’ll benefit from a hearing aid. But choosing the right hearing aid is no simple task. Today’s hearing aids are smaller and more feature-packed than their predecessors, offering an array of options. Narrowing the choices down can be tough – but there are a few important things you should take into consideration before choosing a hearing aid.
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First, you’ll need to have an audiologist assess your hearing loss.
Severity and Lifestyle
Severity is measured in degrees, based upon your hearing loss range in decibels. It ranges from normal (-10 to 15 dB) to profound (91+ dB), with a total of seven different degrees. Also consider your lifestyle needs. Whether you enjoy quiet, intimate gatherings with a few close friends, or an active outdoors lifestyle that includes a lot of background noise, there is a hearing aid designed specifically for your activity level and other needs.
Functionality is an important consideration. With so many available features, you’ll need to decide which ones matter to you most. Popular features include directional microphones, feedback suppression, amplifiers, digital noise reduction, wax guards, automatic volume control, and Bluetooth connectivity. Extra features cost money, so speak with your audiologist to get an idea about the pros and cons of these features.
Cosmetic preference is a key factor in choosing a hearing aid. Since you’ll be wearing it every day, it’s got to not only feel good, but appeal to your confidence, as well. Hearing aids are available in a variety of sizes and styles, some visible while others are implanted deep within the ear canal, rendering them virtually undetectable. Many are custom-molded to fit each individual’s ears.
Hearing aids can range in price from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand apiece. Price will be a factor, but be sure to consider your specific hearing needs when making this decision. Investing in a cheap hearing aid that is ineffective is a waste of money; conversely, you don’t want to overspend on features that won’t benefit you. Your audiologist can help point you in the right direction.
Hearing Aid Styles
Despite their same basic function – amplifying sounds to help those with a hearing loss hear more clearly – all hearing aids are not alike. They come in a variety of sizes and styles and where they are placed or worn differs. Many are custom-molded for a unique fit that delivers better sound quality. Optional features vary. Choosing a style depends upon several factors, including your degree of hearing loss, cosmetic preference, and lifestyle needs.
Completely In The Canal (CIC).
Custom molded to fit inside your ear canal, CIC hearing aids are virtually invisible. Their deep placement reduces the occlusion effect and limits feedback, and their tiny size requires less power to operate the device (but translates to batteries that don’t last as long). They are perfect for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
In The Canal (ITC).
This custom molded device sits in the ear canal, but not as deeply as a CIC device. They are unobtrusive and their slightly larger size enables features that don’t fit on CIC units, though these may be difficult to adjust due to their small size. They are ideal for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Invisible In The Canal (IIC).
Similar to CIC instruments, IIC hearing aids are even smaller, and placed more deeply in the ear canal, making them invisible to others. They are custom molded and require less amplification while delivering a more natural sound quality, but are susceptible to earwax and their tiny parts may pose problems for those with poor manual dexterity. IIC units are appropriate for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Receiver In The Ear (RITE).
In the ear hearing aids are more visible to others and may be prone to feedback, but are easier to insert into the ear and they use larger batteries, which last longer and are easier to insert. RITE instruments contain optional features like volume control and wireless connectivity, and are helpful for individuals with mild to severe hearing loss.
Behind The Ear (BTE).
Behind-the-ear hearing aids hook over the top of your ear and sit behind the ear. Sounds are picked up and transmitted to an ear mold that fits inside your ear canal. BTE instruments are the largest and most visible type, but produce more amplification than other units and are not as prone to damage from moisture or earwax. They are suitable for all types of hearing loss and for people of all ages, including children.
Lyric devices are the first extended-wear hearing aids on the marketplace, designed to be worn for as long as four months at a time. They are implanted very deeply within the ear canal and are completely invisible. They do not need to be removed, and are safe for everyday activities such as exercising, showering, and sleeping. Sound quality is excellent, with minimal occlusion effect or feedback, and improved directionality. Lyric instruments are best for people with mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
Choosing the Right Hearing Aid Technologies
While the choices may seem overwhelming, working closely with your audiologist can help you figure out which technology and features are perfect for your needs. Hearing aid technologies have improved drastically over the past couple of decades. Early devices relied on vacuum tubes and bulky batteries, but today’s instruments take advantage of digital signal processing, microchips, and computerization. Keeping track of the latest technological features can be challenging, but we’ll cover a few of the more popular options here.
Analog technology still exists, but fewer and fewer manufacturers offer these devices, and many have phased them out entirely. Analog units employ a particular frequency based on your audiogram, and all sounds are amplified in the same manner, whether speech or background noise. Some analog hearing aids can be programmed for different listening environments.
Digital Sound Processing
Digital programmable hearing aids use digitized sound processing to convert sound waves into digital signals. A computer chip determines whether the signals are speech or noise and converts them into clear, amplified signals. Advantages in digital processing are significant: it offers improved programming ability, a more precise fit, and a number of features designed to improve or enhance functionality.
Gain processing reduces background sounds and microphone noise to offer a clearer sound for the listener, with less clinical adjustment needed. Digital feedback reduction (DFR) relies on cancellation systems to eliminate or reduce feedback, and digital noise reduction (DNR) reduces background noises for improved speech recognition. Directional microphones use dual microphones, focusing one on the sound source while the other decreases background noise, to enable the user to better determine directionality. Wireless connectivity with Bluetooth devices provides great flexibility.