Millions of Americans have hearing problems. Most of them use hearing aids to compensate for their lost ability to hear. These medical devices do their job effectively. They are compact and comfortable. They allow you to hear the voices of loved ones.
How does a hearing aid work? How do they manage to perform a miracle for people who are hard of hearing? Let’s explore this interesting question together!
How to distinguish a hearing aid from a hearing amplifier (PSAP)?
Before we know how hearing aids work, we need to separate them from hearing amplifiers. Many Americans often confuse these devices with each other, because they have a similar design and both amplify sounds. But that’s where the similarities end.
According to the FDA, hearing aids are medical devices for the treatment of hearing problems. Unlike hearing amplifiers, they amplify only the sounds and frequencies that the patient needs. As a result, devices restore the ability to hear external sounds and carry on a dialogue. Choosing the right hearing aid is a big step. Do it with the help of a hearing care professional. These medical devices take into account the individual characteristics of each person. An audiologist will conduct all the necessary tests and determine the degree of hearing loss. Only after that, it is possible to choose and fit the appropriate hearing aid.
Hearing aids are sophisticated electronic devices. There are different types of hearing aid designs and styles. The choice of a particular model depends on many factors.
PSAPs amplify all sounds! They are not designed to restore hearing. What are they created for? They are mostly used by people who are not active and mostly stay at home. You can think of PSAPs as a magnifying glass. They are not prescription based, although advertising, especially on the Internet, may indicate otherwise.
Dr. Stella Fulman points out that the main reason Americans buy audio amplifiers over medical devices is price differences and misinformation. Internet advertising deceives people who want to save money by promising to help with hearing problems. Don’t believe it. Only hearing aids can be appropriate for all your hearing needs.
How do hearing aids work?
We have already discussed why you should not use hearing amplifiers for hearing loss. Now let’s figure out how hearing aids work. Hearing restoration is a real miracle for a person who has not heard the outside world for a long time! To understand the process, let’s first look at the cause of hearing loss.
Hearing loss is most often caused by damage to the hair cells. These cells are located deep in the ears and do not regenerate. They process external sounds and create an electrical impulse that goes to the brain. Having received the signal, the brain processes it. Through this process, we hear certain sounds. If the hair cells die, the signal to the brain simply has nowhere to come from. Thus, a person’s hearing gradually deteriorates. The reasons for such problems are various. Here are some of them:
Prolonged noise exposure
The reasons are different, but the result is the same, namely, sensorineural hearing loss and a gradual deterioration in health. Hearing loss patients still have working hair cells, but they are not as sensitive as they used to be.
Hearing aids pick up external sounds and vibrations around you. They then process and amplify the sounds you can’t hear. Finally, the devices send amplified sounds, helping damaged hair cells identify them and send an appropriate signal to the brain.
Here are the main elements of the hearing aid:
A microphone (or several) picks up external sounds around you
Sound amplifier processes and amplifies incoming sounds
The receiver (speaker) sends the processed sounds of the required volume to the ear
In addition, each device has a battery compartment, batteries, and other components necessary for operation. They depend on the specific device model.
Today the market offers a wide variety of hearing aids from well-known manufacturers. With a variety of design styles of hearing aids, you can easily find a model that is effective, comfortable, and emphasizes your style.
All popular models can be divided into several categories depending on their type and functionality:
Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids. Classic medical devices with powerful amplifiers and speakers. The model is recommended for people with moderate to profound hearing loss.
Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing aids. In their design, they resemble behind-the-ear models. The difference is that the receiver is very close to the eardrum. The principle of operation of the hearing aid allows you to improve the sound quality, reduce the speaker power and, therefore, use the device without changing the battery for a longer time
In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aids. These are the smallest devices. They are located in the ear canal and are almost invisible to others. Devices are custom-made for each patient. Recommended for people leading an active lifestyle and people with mild hearing loss
Which model and type of device should I choose? The style and model of the hearing aid is usually recommended based on your severity of hearing loss and lifestyle. An appropriate model can be chosen only after consultation with a hearing care professional. This is an important moment in your life, take it seriously. According to studies, patients with hearing loss do not wear hearing aids due to discomfort or low efficiency, which indicates the wrong choice of the device!
Extended hearing aid functionality
I’m sure digital affordable hearing aids will delight you. They perfectly help with hearing challenges and have several additional features that significantly increase comfort and quality of life. What features are of particular interest?
Dual directional microphones. These microphones only amplify sounds from a source directly in front of you. Thus, the hearing aid separates the useful signal from your surroundings. In modern devices, directional microphones start working automatically. As soon as there is a noise behind you, the directional microphone is activated to reduce it. At the same time, the useful signal remains well audible. This is a very useful system, especially in crowded, noisy areas. The noise reduction system shows extremely high efficiency.
Feedback suppression. Due to the structure of hearing aids and hearing problems, you may experience the so-called feedback. It’s kind of like a little whistle. The feedback suppression system removes such extraneous sounds.
Wireless connection. Thanks to it, you can connect your hearing aids to other digital devices, such as a smartphone. It is very comfortable. Now you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket to talk. The sound signal will immediately enter the ear through the hearing aid.
Automatic switching between programs. The function allows you to instantly adapt to new environmental conditions. Let’s imagine that you left a noisy cafe on a quiet street. Your hearing aid will automatically adjust to the new conditions without you even noticing it!
Waterproof. Sweat and moisture are detrimental to your devices. Some devices are waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain or forgetting to take your devices off before showering.
We have considered only some of the additional features of modern digital hearing aids. There are many more, so during your consultation with your audiologist, determine which features you need. The specialist will select the appropriate model of hearing aids. You just have to use the devices and enjoy a diverse palette of sounds!
About Dr Stella Fulman
Dr. Stella Fulman, AU.D., CCC-A received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Audiology from Brooklyn College in 2004 and her Doctorate of Audiology from Salus University in 2008. [ Learn More ]