What Is a Hearing Aid?

Today’s hearing aids are miniature technological marvels capable of amplifying and isolating speech, music, and environmental sounds.

Doctor showing hearing aid

With every new hearing aid that is released, a major concern is the physical and emotional comfort of the wearer. Damage to the ear and the strain required to effectively communicate with others have long been linked to depression, anxiety, and even dementia, making early treatment crucial. No one wants to be defined by their hearing loss, and when properly fitted, hearing aids allow for a full range of activities that vastly improve the quality of life for 95 percent of users.

Every hearing care professional’s goal is to provide professional, affordable care to the millions of citizens currently living with hearing loss across the planet. Within the last decade, developments in audiology have produced hearing aids that are lightweight and nearly invisible to others. For added convenience, many devices are now Bluetooth®-enabled, allowing for direct streaming of high quality music, phone calls, and TV into your hearing aids. The most recent models, which are designed with either soft acrylic, silicon, or plastic, have been sculpted to fit comfortably and discreetly either in-the-ear or behind-the-ear. If you believe you have hearing loss and are considering purchasing a device, discuss all the available options with your hearing care professional.

Expectations, and how to achieve them

Many people with hearing loss wonder if the benefits of hearing aids outweigh the inconvenience of purchasing and wearing them. A few years ago it would have been unrealistic to expect that a device could almost fully restore a patient’s hearing. Today, precision motion-sensor technology allows for audio calibration that can exceed normal levels in certain challenging listening situations. Consulting a hearing care professional is the first step toward resolving damage done to the ear and vastly improving communication skills.

Despite the high number of Americans with hearing loss—nearly 50 million in 2017—fewer than one in five people who could benefit from hearing aids have ever used them. However, awareness surrounding hearing care has greatly increased the demand for affordable hearing aids and related products. As a result, legislators have recently introduced a bill that would allow for hearing aids to be sold over-the-counter nationwide.

There are also alternative devices, known as PSAPS, which are consumer products and do not meet the FDA standards for a medical device. Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids would be offered as solutions for those with mild-to-moderate hearing loss, but many hearing care professionals express concern that people will self-diagnose themselves as having less of a hearing loss than they actually do. As for PSAPs, they can potentially increase damage to the ear due to indiscriminate amplification and a lack of feedback suppression.

Don’t be fooled by unregulated products. Only FDA-approved hearing aids are recommended by hearing care professionals to enhance hearing without threatening the sensitive regions of the ear. When it comes to your ears, there’s no such thing as being too careful.

Ten things to know about hearing aids

Lightweight materials and the ability to synchronize with your other devices make wearing and recharging your hearing aids an organic and seamless part of your daily routine.

1. If discretion is your goal, the small size of today’s hearing aids makes them nearly invisible, and they can be molded to fit snugly in your ear canal. After a short time you won’t even realize you’re wearing them!

2. Most hearing aids today are digital, which means they process and filter sound to determine what you want to hear, and what you don’t. Analog aids, such as PSAPs, simply turn up the volume of the environment, which can lead to feedback, whistles, and other undesirable sounds, and potentially damaging decibel levels.

3. Hearing loss is a spectrum that affects people of all ages, yet fewer than one in three people who could benefit from a hearing aid have ever tried one.

4. All hearing aids can be adjusted for a number of diverse listening situations, such as a restaurant or airplane. The preferred settings for individual locations are saved for future use automatically, eliminating the need to constantly recalibrate your hearing aids.

5. Thousands of theaters, concert halls, places of worship, and more now offer services for the hard of hearing. For a list of locations in the U.S. that offer Assistive Listening Devices, please visit http://www.aldlocator.com.

6. Some hearing aids are are water-resistant, meaning that they can withstand slight exposure to moisture without being damaged.

7. Hearing aids with built-in telephone coils (T-coils) allow wearers to connect to hearing loops, which are still somewhat rare in the U.S. but have been available for the hard of hearing in Northern Europe for years. T-coils also reduce external sounds and allow you to hear more clearly when using a phone.

8. In the past few years, developers have created dozens of applications for your smartphone to protect your hearing and communicate with your other devices to provide a safe listening experience, no matter where you are.

9. The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries in many devices can last up to 24 hours, even while streaming audio, are environmentally friendly, and eliminate the cost and fuss of replacing tiny batteries.

10. Insurance coverage for hearing aids is nowhere near as widely offered as it should be. However, alternative forms of coverage and financing are more available than most people realize, including extremely reduced cost and free hearing aids refurbished by charitable organizations.

Get advice from a hearing care professional

Still not sure whether you would benefit from a hearing aid? Your type of hearing loss will largely determine your hearing aid choices. A hearing care professional can help determine the safest and most therapeutic path to recovery that is suited to your needs, so schedule an appointment before purchasing a new device. You might be surprised at how much sound you’ve been missing.