The Ins and Outs of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are used to improve the hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss. A hearing aid will not restore your normal hearing because of practical limits to the amount of amplification a hearing aid can provide. With practice, however, a hearing aid will increase your awareness of sounds and their sources. If the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, a hearing aid would be ineffective.

Hearing aids have had a bad reputation with some users, primarily because older models simply amplified sound. New model hearing aids have drastically changed. Instead of making all sounds louder, newer hearing aids make what you want to hear more clear.

Hearing aids are getting smaller and smaller. It is unlikely anyone will notice when you are wearing them. The truth is, people are more likely to notice your hearing loss. People who don’t treat their hearing problems are often isolated from friends and family. Studies show that people who wear hearing aids often have a better quality of life.

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

Analog hearing aids convert sound waves into electrical signals, which are amplified. Analog hearing aids are custom built for each user and programmed to the specifications recommended by your audiologist. Analog, or programmable hearing aids, have more than one program or setting. The user can change the program for different listening environments:

  • A small, quiet room
  • A crowded restaurant
  • Large, open areas, such as a theater or stadium.

This circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids and usually are less expensive than digital aids.

Digital aids convert sound waves into numerical codes before amplifying them. The codes include information about a sound’s pitch or loudness, so the hearing aid can be specially programmed to amplify some frequencies more than others. These aids can also be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a specific direction. Digital circuitry gives an audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the aid to a user’s needs and to certain listening environments. Digital circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids.

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