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

Think of a hearing aid as a sophisticated audio filter that makes soft sounds more audible and easily understood, while keeping moderate or loud sounds at a comfortable listening level. This helps hearing in both noisy and quiet situations. Many hearing aids are now compatible with multiple electronic devices, allowing you to hear the audio you want directly through your hearing aids.

While audiologists and designers strive to create high-quality hearing aids that work as effortlessly as possible, hearing aids are not the same as glasses. Because of how the ear works, not all damage is always correctable. Still, there is hope for those with noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), as today’s researchers are getting close to regenerating damaged sensory cells and nerve fibers in mammals. Thanks to the combination of medical, legislative, and technological breakthroughs, a future of better hearing for everyone looks bright.

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.

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.