Hearing Aid Basics

Millions of adults suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss. You may think that hearing aids are only for senior citizens, but that is not true. As someone who began wearing hearing aids at age 30, I can tell you that they have made a dramatic improvement in both my professional and personal lives.

You may first notice hearing loss in a number of ways. Do you frequently ask people to repeat themselves? Do other people in your family complain that you play the television too loudly? Do you have trouble following the conversation at business meetings? Do you hesitate meeting and talking to people in social situations because of your difficulty hearing?

All of these are signs that you might benefit from hearing aids. If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, your next step should be to make an appointment with your doctor in order to rule any correctable causes of hearing loss, such as infections, tumor, or just plain earwax.

Assuming your doctor finds nothing physically wrong, you’re ready for the next step. Hearing aids can be purchased from two main sources. Audiologists are professionals who hold either a Masters of Doctorate degree, are licensed by the state, and certified by a national body. Hearing aid dealers and fitters are also tested and licensed by the state, but lack the broader education that an audiologist receives.

Hearing aids come in a variety of models which vary by the type of hearing loss they are best suited to, cost, and how visible they are to others. Hearing aids can be designed to fit complete in the ear canal, partially in the canal, in the ear, or behind the ear. Although behind the ear hearing aids have traditionally been the most visible, the newest versions are small and barely visible. An open-fit hearing aid combines a small behind the ear device and a small dome which fits in the ear canal and is connected by a thin tube. This type of hearing aid leaves the ear canal open, which many users feel provides a more natural experience.

Hearing aids employ either analog or digital amplifications systems, although analog is being phased out. Digital systems employ a computer chip to digitize and analyze sounds, and then use this information to shape and adjust sounds based on the hearing aid wearer’s type of hearing loss, listening needs, and the specific sound environment. This generally leads to a much more satisfying user experience.