Hearing aids: all you need to know

Around three million Canadians have hearing loss, but despite the enormous benefits that hearing aids offer, only one in five people who would benefit from wearing hearing aids use them.

Whether it’s listening to your favorite song, the sound of your loved one’s voice or the birds chirping outside, so much of our everyday lives are intrinsically connected to what we hear. But unfortunately, these experiences are not shared by all Canadians.

This seems extraordinary considering the enormous strides in hearing aid technology that has transformed the hearing aid market. Hearing aids have progressed from cumbersome speakers hung over the back of the ears, long speaking tubes and bulky ear trumpets offering basic amplification to the almost invisible high-tech devices we know today.

Hearing aids FAQs

What is a hearing aid?

Today’s hearing aids are small electronic devices worn either in the ear canal or behind the ear. They are used to amplify sound so that someone with hearing loss can hear sounds better. Hearing aids are made up of three key components, an amplifier, microphone and speaker. Sound passes through the microphone and is then converted into an electrical signal which is sent to the amplifier. The amplifier will then increase the power of the signals and sends them to your ear through the hearing aid’s speaker.

Hearing aids are now much smaller and far more powerful than the hearing aids worn by previous generations, even as recently as 10 years ago. As hearing aid technology has advanced, an increasing number of features have been introduced to the hearing aid market.

Wireless technology has led to Bluetooth connectivity becoming a standard feature on most hearing aids sold in Canada and around the world. Other hearing aid features include multiple channels and memories, types of noise reduction, telecoil technology and speech mapping.

What batteries do hearing aids need?

Even hearing aid batteries have experienced a transformation in recent years. While there are hearing aids that use disposable zinc-air button batteries there are also many hearing aids that use rechargeable lithium batteries. These are often more suitable for hearing aid users who have vision or dexterity issues and may have difficulty accessing the battery compartment and changing the very small battery.

Rechargeable hearing aids are also much more convenient. You just have to put the device in a charging dock for 30 minutes and then you can enjoy six hours of hearing aid use. Alternatively, a three-hour charge will provide you with 24 hours of wear. ZPower batteries are available for a selection of hearing aids and provide several benefits, such as:

  • Fully recyclable
  • Operate a wireless streaming hearing aid for 24 hours
  • Recharges in just a few hours
  • Interchangeable with zinc-air batteries
  • Last for at least a year

Are hearing aids suitable for anyone?

Hearing aids mainly help people with sensorineural hearing loss which affects the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss in adults and makes up 90% of all cases of hearing loss. Most people will, therefore, benefit from wearing hearing aids.

Hearing aids are also suitable for some people with conductive hearing loss. This affects the eardrum, ear canal or the middle ear and its small bones. For other people living with conductive hearing loss, they may find that medication or implanted bone-anchored hearing aids offer a better solution.

How is it determined whether a person could benefit from hearing aids?

A hearing evaluation will make a comprehensive assessment of your hearing that will determine the type and severity of your hearing loss and if hearing aids would be a suitable treatment for you. The assessment will include:

  • Thorough case history
  • Ear exam
  • Audiologic testing
  • Speech in noise testing
  • Cognitive screening
  • Needs assessment

Which type of hearing aid and hearing aid features you need will be based on this assessment and the treatment plan goals developed between you and your hearing care professional. The factors that will likely impact the style of hearing aid that’s most suitable for you include the shape and size of your ear canal, how easy the hearing aid is for you to use, any skin sensitivities, your comfort, whether there is a blockage in your ear canal causing hearing distortion and lastly, any cosmetic concerns you may have.

What’s the difference between open and closed domes?

A hearing aid dome is the recognizable small plastic bell-shaped piece at the end of the tube that is inserted into your ear. An open dome has openings that allow sound to pass from outside the hearing aid through your ear canal. This helps to alleviate the effect of occlusion or obstruction in the ear. In contrast, a closed dome (sometimes called tulip or vented) blocks more of the ear canal and reduces the sound from outside the hearing aid. This helps to boost the sound levels for people with severe hearing loss.

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

Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aids have an almost invisible tube that connects the casing to a receiver (speaker) that sits in your ear canal. This type of hearing aid has generally replaced in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid models. RIC hearing aids are much lighter, very discreet and provide a much superior and more natural listening experience. As the small speaker sits in your ear canal, the distance sound has to travel is much shorter. This provides a much clearer sound and the larger distance between the receiver and microphone also provides less feedback.

A RIC hearing aid fitted with an open dome has also been found to reduce the chance of occlusion (blockage) and provides adequate venting to remove low frequencies. RIC hearing aids are available in a variety of colors and are a good option if you have been diagnosed with a mild to severe hearing loss. RIC hearing aids also provide:

  • Layered noise reduction to improve your hearing in noisy environments
  • Wireless connectivity to devices such as smartphones
  • A speaker that can be easily replaced
  • Telecoil options
  • Rechargeable battery options

What are the other types of hearing aid?

Behind-the-ear (BTE)

This hearing aid is perhaps the most recognizable with its small plastic case that is worn behind your ear. It connects to a custom-made earmold that sits inside your outer ear. This earmold carries the sound from the speaker to the ear. Meanwhile, the case positioned behind your ear contains the speaker (receiver) and the other components of the hearing aid. BTE hearing aids are easy to clean, provide maximum amplification and suitable for all types of hearing loss.

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC)

These are small and very discreet hearing aids that are inserted in your ear canal, making them hardly visible. They are suitable if you have been diagnosed with a mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Although a CIC hearing aid has been designed so you can remove them by pulling a cord or small handle, some people do find them hard to use. Their very small size also means they cannot provide extra features such as volume control and directional microphones. They also tend to get clogged with earwax.

Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA)

These hearing aids are surgically implanted devices. Instead of amplifying acoustic sounds that enter your ear canal, they send sound vibrations directly to your inner ear through the skull bone. A BAHA may be a good option for you if you have a chronic middle ear condition, congenital defects of the ear or any other outer ear issue. The main requirement for having a BAHA is that you have at least moderate hearing in one inner ear or been diagnosed with single-sided deafness.

Latest advancements in hearing aid technology

Hearing aid technology is constantly improving with new and exciting innovations introduced all the time. Some of the more recent advancements in hearing aid technology include:

Smartphone connectivity

Bluetooth technology enables your hearing aids to connect with your smartphone. This not only improves clarity during phone calls but you can also download apps that allow you to adjust your hearing aids from your phone or stream your favorite music straight to your ears.

Own Voice Processing (OVP)

This feature can detect your voice and process it separately from the other sounds around you. This helps to avoid occlusion which is when the volume of your voice increases because the hearing aid is blocking your ear canal.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

As a hearing aid user, AI enables you to track your daily steps and your active listening to create a wellness score. With this technology in your hearing aids, falls can be detected and an alert is sent automatically to your 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    

If you have noticed some changes in your hearing or your family members are complaining that you have the TV on too loud, then it’s time to schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional. The world is full of fantastic sounds and hearing aids can help you enjoy them.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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