Hearing aids: all you need to know

Hearing aids may not be able to restore hearing to what it was before, but for the one in six Australians with hearing loss, hearing aids offer an effective hearing loss treatment. If your hearing care professional has recommended that you wear hearing aids, it’s a good idea to find out more about these devices and how they can help your hearing loss.

Hearing aids have undergone a dramatic transformation. They were once bulky and cumbersome ear trumpets and long speaking tubes that only offered basic amplification. But hearing aids have now evolved into small but very powerful devices. Some of the more advanced hearing aids now on the market offer an assortment of personalisation options and the ability to connect wirelessly to your Bluetooth devices.

What is a hearing aid?

Hearing aids are small electronic devices that are worn in the ear canal or behind the ear. They will amplify sounds so that a person living with a degree of hearing loss can hear these sounds much better. Hearing aids are essentially made up of three components: a microphone, amplifier and speaker. Once sound passes through the microphone, it is converted into an electrical signal which is then passed to the hearing aid’s amplifier. The amplifier’s job is to increase the power of the signals, sending them to your ear through the hearing aid’s speaker.

As hearing aid technology has continued to advance, many hearing aids now offer a variety of features. Wireless technology has seen Bluetooth connectivity become a typical feature of most modern hearing aids. Many hearing aids also have multiple channels and memories, telecoil technology, noise reduction and speech mapping. But just as hearing aids have become increasingly powerful in recent years, they’ve also reduced in size. Some hearing aids are so small they are almost invisible when worn.

Hearing aids vs cochlear implants

Cochlear implants and hearing aids both enhance auditory perception, with hearing aids amplifying sounds and cochlear implants transmitting sound directly to the auditory nerve. Hearing aids are non-invasive devices that amplify sound and improve comfort in various environments, while cochlear implants require surgery and are recommended for severe to profound hearing loss. Factors like price, insurance coverage, effectiveness, maintenance, age, lifestyle, personal preference, and communication needs influence the choice between the two devices.

What batteries will my hearing aids need?

The most common type of hearing aid batteries are disposable zinc-air batteries. These have small holes on the surface of the battery which air penetrates through. The air reacts with the zinc inside the battery to produce zinc oxide and it’s this reaction that generates the energy required to power the battery. Standard non-rechargeable batteries come in four different sizes and will last around five to 14 days depending on the size of the battery, model of hearing aid and how regularly you use them.

Some hearing aids use rechargeable batteries and these can be more suitable for people who experience issues with their vision or dexterity as they may have difficulty accessing the battery compartment and changing the tiny batteries. With a rechargeable hearing aid, you just need to put the device in a charging station. A 30-minute charge will provide you with around six hours of hearing aid use, while a three-hour charge will give you a full day’s worth of wear.

ZPower batteries are a common battery that can be used for a variety of hearing aids. They offer several benefits, including:

  • A lifespan of more than a year
  • Entirely recyclable
  • Just a few hours of charge, powers a wireless streaming hearing aid for 24 hours
  • Interchangeable with zinc-air batteries

Are hearing aids right for everyone?

Hearing aids are mainly beneficial for people with a hearing loss that affects their auditory nerve or cochlea (inner ear). This is called sensorineural hearing loss. It’s the most common type of hearing loss and can be attributed to 90% of cases of hearing loss. Therefore, most people with hearing loss will benefit from hearing aids.

But hearing aids are also suitable for some people who have been diagnosed with conductive hearing loss. This type of hearing loss affects the middle ear, ear canal or eardrum. For others with conductive hearing loss, they may find implanted bone-anchored hearing aids or medication more effective.

How to find out if you need hearing aids?

To determine whether you are a suitable candidate for hearing aids, you will need a hearing evaluation. This comprehensive hearing assessment will evaluate the type and severity of your hearing loss and if hearing aids would be an effective treatment for you. The hearing assessment will include:

  • Ear exam
  • Review of your case history
  • Audiologic testing
  • Cognitive screening
  • Speech in noise testing
  • Individual needs assessment

The type of hearing aid and features that you will most benefit from will depend on this assessment and the treatment plan you have discussed with your hearing care professional. What impacts the type of hearing aid that will benefit you most includes:

  • Your type and degree of hearing loss
  • How easy you find the hearing aid to use
  • The size and shape of your ear canal
  • Whether you have any skin sensitivities
  • Your comfort
  • If you have a blockage in your ear canal
  • Cosmetic preferences

What are open and closed domes?

The small plastic bell-shaped piece at the end of a tube that goes into the ear is the hearing-aid dome. An open dome has openings that let sounds outside the hearing aid to pass through your ear canal. This can help alleviate the effect of occlusion or obstruction in the ears. A closed dome blocks more of the ear canal which can help to lessen the sounds from outside the hearing aid while boosting the sound levels for people with a severe hearing loss.

What are receiver-in-the-canal hearing aids?

RIC hearing aids are often a good option for people with a mild to severe hearing loss. They are made up of an almost invisible tube that is attached to the casing of the receiver (speaker) that fits inside your ear canal. This type of hearing aid is lightweight, very discreet and delivers a high-quality, natural listening experience. The fact that the small speaker sits in your ear canal means that sounds have a much shorter distance to travel from the speaker through to your ear canal and eardrum. This will give you a much clearer and truer sound. Meanwhile, the longer distance between the receiver and microphone means that you should get less feedback.

RIC hearing aids are often considered to be more effective than behind-the-hear hearing aids. A RIC hearing aid fitted with an open dome can also help to reduce the possibility of occlusion and also provides enough venting to eliminate low frequencies. Other benefits of wearing RIC hearing aids include:

  • Choice of telecoil options
  • A speaker that users can replace separately from the other hearing aid components
  • Styles that use rechargeable batteries
  • Wireless connectivity to your smartphone and other Bluetooth enabled devices
  • Layered noise reduction to improve hearing in noisy environments

What other types of hearing aids are on the market?

Behind-the-ear (BTE)

This style of hearing aid is generally the most recognisable of all hearing aids with its small, hard-plastic casing worn directly behind your ear. The case connects to a custom-made earmould and fits inside the outer ear. This ear mould transfers sound from the speaker to the ear. The case behind the ear contains all the hearing components such as the speaker (receiver). BTE hearing aids provide maximum amplification and suitable for all types of hearing loss, even severe hearing loss.

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC)

These hearing aids are very small and discreet, inserted into your ear canal they become almost invisible. A CIC hearing aid is suitable for those with a mild to moderately severe level of hearing loss. The hearing aid can be removed from the ear by pulling a small handle cord. However, a person with vision or dexterity issues may find this difficult. Furthermore, their small size does limit the features the hearing aid can offer such as volume controls and directional microphones. They can also get clogged with earwax fairly easily.

Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA)

A BAHA hearing aid works differently to other hearing aids. Instead of amplifying sounds that pass into your ear canal, this type of hearing sends vibrations directly to your inner via your skull bone. You would be suitable for a BAHA hearing aid if you have some form of chronic middle ear condition, a congenital defect of the ear or some other outer ear issue. To be eligible, however, you need to have at least moderate or better hearing in one inner ear. If you have been diagnosed with single-sided deafness you could also benefit from BAHA hearing aid implants.

Innovations in the hearing aid market

Hearing aid manufacturers are constantly investing in hearing aid research, development and the very latest technology to create state-of-the-art hearing devices. Some of the most recent hearing aid innovations include:

Wireless connectivity

Many hearing aids are now wireless Bluetooth-enabled devices that connect to your smartphone to stream audio directly to your ears. For some people with hearing loss, it can often be difficult to hear on the phone. However, smartphone connectivity improves clarity, so when you talk on the phone you will be able to hear clearly as if the person on the end of the call was in the same room.

You can also download apps that enable you to adjust your hearing aids from your phone. This means you don’t have to remove your hearing aids to make changes to your hearing aid settings. There’s even a smartphone app that will help you to find your hearing aids if you’ve misplaced them.

Own Voice Processing (OVP)

OVP technology can detect your voice and process it separately from other sounds. This helps to reduce occlusion, an increase in the volume of your voice which occurs when the hearing aid is blocking your ear canal.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI technology is being utilised in all sorts of devices, including hearing aids. With AI you can now monitor your overall wellness by tracking the number of steps you take each day, your social interactions and active listening. This technology can also detect falls and immediately send an alert notification to emergency contacts.
Hearing Aids

Smartphone connectivity improves clarity when you talk on the phone and the ability to download apps, to adjust your hearing aids based on environment (e.g. to block out background noise). This is possible due to wireless Bluetooth-enabled devices.

Hearing Aids

A smartphone app can help you locate misplaced hearing aids in the same way as missing keys. The app uses a map to detect and show you the last location of your hearing aids or a search signal to help you recover them when you believe they’re nearby.

Hearing Aids

The Own Voice Processing (OVP) detects the user's voice and processes it separately from external sounds. This resolves occlusion, an increase in the loudness of your own voice when the ear canal is blocked by a hearing aid.

Hearing Aids

Thank to Artificial Intelligence (AI) in hearing aids, users can track their daily steps, social engagement and active listening to generate an overall wellness score. They can detect falls and send an automatic alert to a list of emergency contacts.

Hearing Aids

An FDA-authorized hearing aid sold by licensed hearing aid dispensers enables consumers to fit, program, and control devices without the assistance of a hearing care provider    

Whatever your degree of hearing loss, your lifestyle and the activities you enjoy doing, there’s more than likely a hearing aid that can help you to hear better. If you are concerned about your hearing or want to find out more about which hearing aids would benefit you, schedule a consultation with a hearing care professional.

Learn more on hearing aids

The content of this page or of an article contained therein may refer/be applicable to a specific territory different from your country of residence.

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