The earliest versions from the 19th century involved ear trumpets connected to long tubes that directed sound into the ear. Thanks to the efforts of three great inventors, hearing aid technology advanced considerably:
- Alexander Graham Bell used a microphone and battery to amplify sound electronically for his new telephone.
- Werner Von Siemens invented the first technology-based solution for hearing loss.
- Thomas Edison invented the carbon transmitter that converted sound into electrical impulses conducted through wires and converted it back again.
Hearing aids continue to evolve
From vacuum tubes and transistors to microchips, hearing instruments are marvels of technology that continue to advance with each passing year. The first step was analog hearing instruments, which converted physical sounds into electrical waves that simply made all incoming sounds louder. The downside: noise, speech, and other sounds were all amplified equally, which made it difficult to discern what you wanted to hear from what you didn’t. Modern analog hearing aids are programmable, in that they can be adjusted for different surroundings, such as large public places (arenas), smaller but still crowded rooms (restaurants), or quiet zones (home). These devices incorporate microchip technology and improve the usability of analog instruments, and they remain the lowest-price option on the market.
Digital instruments elevate hearing to a new level
Digital hearing aids receive sound waves like analog devices, but then convert the sounds into digital signals. A computer chip allows the hearing aid to distinguish between noise and speech then cleans up the sound according to programmed preferences before enabling you to hear it. The sound is clearer and more easily understood than the analog version. Once a hearing care professional has set up the programs according to your needs, the digital hearing aids can self adjust in varying situations to match your hearing requirements. Digital hearing technology offers a wider range of programmable options than analog, plus reduces excess noise and loudness, and significantly reduces instances of acoustic feedback.
T-Coils and loop technology
The telecoil (T-coil) is an optional receiver built into many hearing aids that allows you to pick up sound coming from the telephone, television, stereo, and car radio more clearly. It also reduces the likelihood of whistling when using the phone or near other electronic devices. The T-coil has an added benefit — it can allow you to tap into commercial loop systems and thus improve your hearing in public places.
FM and infrared loop systems are available in some public places like theaters and churches, and enable users to hear sound from a microphone directly via a magnetic signal, rather than having to strain to hear from the back of a room or over a noisy crowd using your hearing aids' microphones alone. Loop systems broadcast sound into an assistive listening device, usually worn on a loop around your neck that sends the speech into your hearing aids via the T-coil.
Induction loop systems, the next step up, sends sound from a microphone through amplifiers, which then send the signal through a loop of wire around a given space to create a magnetic field. The T-coil picks up the resulting fluctuations in the magnetic field and delivers the sound directly through your hearing aids.
The sound provided by loop systems is pure and undistorted. Unfortunately, in the United States, there aren’t many loop systems installed in public places yet, but hopefully this will change over time. The development of loop systems for residences is also underway.
Bluetooth and wireless — not just for cell phones anymore
Bluetooth® wireless is an option for connecting and exchanging information between devices, such as mobile phones and laptops, over a secure short-range radio frequency. This hands-free connectivity option is very popular, enabling users to talk on cell phones more safely while driving or connect laptops without a wire to available networks or hotspots when traveling. Some digital hearing aids now come equipped with the ability to utilize Bluetooth technology, enabling wearers to receive sound from accessories that allow them to pair with cell phones, MP3 players, and other devices. While hearing aids used to require the use of wires or cables to connect, the advent of Bluetooth-enabled hearing instruments offers a new, and far more flexible, wireless option to wearers.
Talk to a hearing care professional about your options
As you can see, hearing aids are available with a wide array of features. Call 855-355-9064 or schedule an appointment online with a hearing care professional.
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