We’ve come a long way from using the hollowed out horns of animals that were used to treat hearing loss in the 13th century. While the 18th century saw the invention of “ear trumpets,” the technology later evolved to carbon hearing aids after the invention of the telephone. These were in use from 1902 until vacuum tube hearing aids emerged in 1921, which were heavy and bulky.
Smaller, one-piece hearing aids didn’t come along until the mid-20th century with transistor technology. In the 1980s, digital signal processing chips were added. By the year 2000, hearing aids could be programmed. Five years later, digital hearing aids made up 80 percent of the market.
Today’s hearing aids are virtually invisible, very powerful and come in a range of sizes and capabilities, with many features, like rechargeable batteries and Bluetooth connectivity.
Unfortunately, only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually use one.
“Factors that influence whether a person chooses to wear a hearing aid include the perceived versus actual benefits, cost, stigma, and value (benefit relative to price) of hearing aids, as well as the person’s accessibility to hearing health care,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
“Unfortunately, only one in five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually use one.”
Simply put, a hearing aid is a small electronic device that is worn in or behind the ear. These devices makes some sounds louder. There are 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 NIDCD explains. “The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.”
The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the amplification needed.
Today’s hearing aids are no longer clunky. They have smart programs that do more than just pick up sounds and amplify frequencies.
Some features available in hearing aids include:
There are several different types of hearing aids, and each form factor depends on the type of hearing loss as well as personal preference. There are two basic categories: analog and digital.
One difference between analog and digital hearing aid are the signal. Analog hearing aids convert sound waves into electrical signals, whereas digital hearing aids convert sound waves into numerical codes. Analog aids amplify all sounds in the same way and are becoming less common. Digital aids produce an exact duplication of sound, allow for more complex processing, and have greater flexibility in programming.
Read more: Ask Anna: I miss my analog hearing aids
These consist of a hard plastic case worn behind the ear that’s connected to a plastic ear mold that goes inside the ear. The electronic parts are in the case. “Open-fit” BTE’s are a new kind of BTE hearing aid, that sit completely behind the ear, with only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal. This allows the ear canal to be open, which can be helpful for people who have a lot of ear wax.
These fit completely inside the outer ear. These are typically not worn by young children because the casings need to be replaced often as the ear grows.
These small aids fit in the ear canal. The reduced size limits power and volume. They may also be difficult to adjust and remove.
No one can tell you’re wearing these because they can’t be seen. An example of a virtually invisible hearing aid is Lyric, which is placed in the ear canal near the eardrum by a trained professional.
A Personal Sound Amplifier is not a hearing aid. These devices amplify sound, but doesn’t address other components of hearing loss. Because of the cheaper price and lack of testing or fitting needed, they might be attractive. However, if hearing loss is suspected, a hearing test is a necessity. The next step will be to find the best device for your hearing loss.
Your audiologist will help you select a hearing aid that best suits your needs and lifestyle. Price may also be a consideration.
It’s useful to ask yourself a few questions when you’re looking to purchase a hearing aid. The NIDCD has a list of questions to consider before purchasing:
For those with severe to profound hearing loss, a more powerful solution is used such as Phonak Naida B hearing aids.
Single-sided hearing loss, or unilateral hearing loss, can be treated with one or two devices.
CROS or BiCROS (Contralateral Routing of Signal) amplification systems are used when one ear is normal or has a mild/moderate hearing loss and the other ear is basically unaidable. The CROS device with a microphone picks up sound and voices from the non-hearing ear and wirelessly transmits to the hearing aid.
Learn more about solutions for hearing loss in one ear, here.
There is a specific type of hearing aid that gives children the features they need to thrive in school, and extracurricular activities. Phonak Sky B hearing aids are made for children and even come in a variety of different colors, making them more fun to wear.
Read more: Hearing aids and accessories for kids
Cochlear implants are small, complex electronic device that have an external portion, which looks like a hearing aid, that is placed behind the ear and a second portion surgically placed under the skin. A CI bypasses the damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulates the auditory nerve. To be considered a candidate, you must be deaf or severely hard of hearing.
Learn more about cochlear implants, here.
If you think you might need a hearing aid, the first step is to get your hearing tested. There are, however, some early warning signs and behavior changes that may be related to hearing loss. Keep an eye out for these.
If you’re experiencing any of the above, see an audiologist who can perform a hearing test and then talk to you about the results. An audiologist will help find the best hearing aid for your needs.
A hearing aid isn’t like a pair of glasses; it doesn’t “correct your hearing back to normal.” Rather, it will help you understand speech in background noise, pick up pitches and frequencies you may have lost, and will help you locate the source of sounds. A huge benefit of wearing a hearing aid is that you’ll be less fatigued because you won’t be straining to listen. You’ll be able to participate more fully in your every day life.
As for which hearing aid to choose, this depends on your personal situation. Do your research and make sure you’re able to try it out before committing.
And be thankful that no matter what you end up with, it won’t be an animal horn!
What else do you want to know about hearing aids? Let us know in the comments or join our Facebook group and we’ll do our best to answer them!