A hearing aid makes sounds louder (amplifies). While hearing aids may amplify some types of sounds more than others, at this time they cannot be made or programmed to amplify only one type of sound, such as a voice. Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing, but they may help people with hearing loss function and communicate more easily.
If you think you have a hearing problem and are thinking about getting a hearing aid, see your doctor. If your doctor thinks you may need a hearing aid, another type of specialist (audiologist) can help determine what type of hearing aid will work best for you. The audiologist will pick a hearing aid based on the type and how much hearing loss you have and other factors. He or she can help you learn how to get the most out of your hearing aid. In general, it usually is better to wear hearing aids in both ears, even if the hearing loss in the ears is not equal.
You also need to consider cost. Hearing aids can be expensive, and they are not always covered by insurance. Be sure to ask about a return policy, in case you are not satisfied with the hearing aid, and any warranties.
What are the different types of hearing aids?
Hearing aids differ in how they look, their size, where they are placed in the ear, and how much they can amplify sounds. All hearing aids consist of:
- A microphone, to pick up sound.
- An amplifier, to make the sound louder.
- A speaker, to deliver the sound into the ear.
- Batteries, to power the hearing aid.
The size of a hearing aid is not a good indicator of its sound quality.
There are three major types of hearing aids:
- Analog adjustable hearing aids are made based on your hearing tests. They amplify both speech and other sounds in the same amount. Your doctor has some flexibility in adjusting them to fit your hearing, and you generally control loudness. These are the least expensive type of hearing aids.
- Analog programmable hearing aids contain a computer chip that your doctor can program to take into account your hearing loss and how you respond to louder sounds. They can be programmed for different hearing environments, such as a one-on-one conversation or a dinner party in a restaurant. You change hearing programs by using a remote control.
- Digital programmable hearing aids can analyze the hearing environment and adjust to the sound. They allow more flexibility in programming than analog hearing aids. They are the most advanced and the most expensive type of hearing aid.
You can wear hearing aids behind the ear, in the outer ear, or in the ear canal. Most newer models fit in the ear or ear canal. See a picture of the types of hearing aids.
- All parts of a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid are found in a case that fits behind the ear. The case is connected to a plastic ear mold that fits inside the outer ear. BTE hearing aids are used for all degrees of hearing loss, especially very severe hearing loss. They may be better for children because of safety and growth reasons. Poorly fitting BTE ear molds or a buildup of earwax may cause a whistling sound (feedback).
- All parts of an in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid are found in a case that fits in the outer part of the ear. It can be used by people with mild to severe hearing loss. ITE hearing aids can be used with other hearing devices, such as a telecoil that improves hearing during phone calls. ITE hearing aids can be damaged by earwax and fluid draining from the ear, and their small size may be difficult for some people to handle. Children do not usually use them because the case must be replaced as the child grows.
- All parts of an in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid are found in a case that fits partly or completely into the ear canal. ITC hearing aids are used by people with mild to moderate hearing loss. They are made to fit the shape and the size of your ear canal. They can be damaged by earwax and fluid draining from the ear, and their small size may be difficult for some people to handle. They are not recommended for children.
Disposable hearing aids that you use for a short period of time are now available. They last for 30 to 60 days. They may be an option for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Will it be hard to adjust to a hearing aid?
It may take from several weeks to months for you to get used to your hearing aid. You may find that:
- Your hearing aid makes all sounds louder, and you may hear sounds you have not heard for a long time. Your own voice probably will sound very loud, and background noises—such as rustling newspapers, clinking silverware, and other voices—may bother you. You will have to learn to filter out unwanted sounds.
- Your hearing changes as your situation changes. How your hearing aid works will be different when talking quietly to a friend or spouse, enjoying a family dinner, or attending a presentation with a large group of people. In each situation you will have to learn how to adjust your listening.
- Your hearing aid is uncomfortable. It will feel odd in your ear at first and may cause some pain and tenderness in the ear canal. Do not feel you have to wear it 24 hours a day.
Here are some general tips to help you adjust to your new hearing aid.
- Talk to your audiologist about how long to wear your hearing aid. When you first get it, your audiologist often will recommend that you wear it 2 to 3 times a day, for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Gradually increase the time you wear it. Overloading yourself with new sounds may result in fatigue and discomfort.
- When you first get your hearing aid, try to talk to only one person at a time, in a quiet room. This helps you adjust to the louder sounds without distractions.
- Wear your hearing aid even if you are alone. This is a good time to get used to hearing and filtering out background noise.
- To get used to your own voice, read aloud to yourself. Your voice is louder because it is closer to the hearing aid's microphone.
- Adjust your hearing aid when your environment changes. For example, in meetings, sit close to the speaker so that you will be able to see him or her. Try sitting in different parts of a room until you find the spot that is best for your hearing. Change the volume of your hearing aid when necessary.