Hearing aids: all you need to know

Despite 480,000 people in New Zealand living with hearing loss, according to the NZ Hearing Industry Association, 280,000 of them don’t wear hearing aids. Hearing loss can be more than just frustrating. Untreated hearing loss can have a serious impact on the social, physical and cognitive aspects of your daily life.

It can affect your relationships, career, earning potential and even your mental health. So, why do so many people who would benefit from using hearing aids not wear them? For many people, they simply haven’t acknowledged they have a hearing problem. Others believe that hearing aids are uncomfortable or not compatible with wearing glasses. Meanwhile, some people are put off wearing hearing aids because they think it will make them look older. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to find out more about hearing aids.

What is a hearing aid?

Hearing aids today are almost unrecognisable from the bulky and cumbersome ear trumpets and long speaking tubes they once were. Modern hearing aids are a small and sleek electronic device packed with an array of features. They are worn either behind-the-ear or in-the-ear canal and can be worn with glasses. A hearing aid is designed to amplify sound so that someone with hearing loss can hear sounds better.

Hearing aids are made up of three key components – amplifier, microphone and speaker. Sound passes through the microphone to become an electrical signal that is passed to the amplifier. The amplifier then increases the signal's power and sends it to your ear through the aid’s speaker.

Developments in digital technology have improved the way hearing aids can distinguish speech in noisy environments. Many hearing aids are also Bluetooth compatible and will connect with your smartphone and other devices.

Could a hearing aid improve my hearing?

Whether a hearing aid can improve your hearing will largely depend on what type of hearing loss you have:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common type of hearing loss, making up to 90% of cases. It occurs when the sensory hair cells of the inner ear become damaged. This can happen as a result of medication, illness, exposure to loud noise, injury or age. If you are diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss then you may benefit from using hearing aids.
  • Conductive hearing loss tends to be caused by an obstruction in the ear canal. This could be as a result of swelling caused by a benign tumour or ear infection. If your hearing loss is determined to be conductive, your hearing could return to normal once the obstruction is removed. However, if your hearing loss continues, you may benefit from wearing hearing aids.

How can I find out if I need a hearing aid?

The best way to find out if you have hearing loss and could benefit from a hearing aid is by having your hearing assessed by a hearing care professional. A thorough hearing evaluation will take around an hour and you may be asked to provide your hearing history, undertake a series of hearing assessments and discuss your lifestyle, cosmetic preferences and your expectations for your hearing.

Your hearing care professional will then discuss with you the results of your tests and if it is determined that hearing aids will provide you with the best course of treatment, they will discuss the next steps with you. The type of hearing aid and features that you will be most suitable for you will largely depend on your budget and lifestyle. Other factors such as the shape and size of your ear canal, whether you have any skin sensitivities and how easy you find the hearing to adjust will also need to be taken into account.

Will I need open or closed domes?

This will greatly depend on what you need from your hearing aids. The dome is the small plastic bell-shaped piece at the end of the tube inserted into your ear. An open dome will have small openings that allow for outside sounds to pass through your ear canal. This is useful in reducing the effects of occlusion. A closed dome will block a larger part of your ear canal which helps to reduce sounds from outside the hearing aid. If you have been diagnosed with severe hearing loss, then a closed dome can increase sound levels and help you to hear better.

What is a receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) hearing aid?

This type of hearing aid is made up of a nearly invisible tube that is used to connect the casing to the receiver (speaker) that sits inside your ear canal. The RIC hearing aid has largely come to replace in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aid models. RIC hearing aids are much lighter, more discreet and provide more of a superior sound to create a more natural listening experience. This is helped by the small speaker being positioned directly in your ear canal.

Sound can travel a much shorter distance from the speaker through your ear canal and eardrum. This provides a much clearer and complete sound. Meanwhile, the larger distance between the receiver and the microphone provides less feedback. A hearing aid that has an open dome can also reduce your chance of developing occlusion by providing enough venting to remove low frequencies.

With a RIC hearing aid you can also benefit from:

  • Rechargeable batteries
  • Telecoil options
  • Wireless connectivity to your smartphone and other devices
  • Enhanced hearing in noisy environments

What other types of hearing aids are available?

Behind-the-ear (BTE)

These hearing aids are perhaps the most recognisable type of hearing aid with their small plastic case that is worn behind the ear. This case houses the hearing aid’s components, such as the speaker (receiver). It is connected to a custom-made plastic ear mould that fits inside the outer ear. The ear mould transfers sound from the speaker to the ear. The BTE hearing aid is a popular type of hearing aid and is easy to clean while offering maximum amplification and idea for people with severe hearing loss.

Completely-in-the-canal (CIC)

These hearing aids are a popular choice with hearing aid users who want a device that is small and discreet. Inserted into the ear canal, the CIC is almost invisible and suitable for people with a mild to moderately severe type of hearing loss. These hearing aids can be removed from the ear by pulling on a small handle attached to the hearing aid. Although if you have dexterity or vision issues you may find this more difficult. If you want a hearing aid that’s packed with features, then the CIC hearing aid may not be the device for you, as due to its small size, it’s limited on the features it can offer.

Bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA)

These hearing aids have to be surgically implanted. Instead of amplifying acoustic sounds that enter your ear canal which is common with hearing aids, the BAHA sends sound vibrations directly to the inner ear via the skull bone. These are a good option if you have a chronic condition affecting your middle ear, have an issue with your outer ear or have a congenital defect of the ear. To qualify for this procedure and device you will be required to have at least moderate hearing in one inner ear or experience single-sided deafness.

Latest advances in hearing aid technology

Innovations in hearing aid technology have seen hearing aids become highly sophisticated devices that can do much more than just improve hearing. Some of the recent advances include:

Smartphone connectivity

Hearing aids can now transform into wireless headsets thanks to Bluetooth technology. You can stream music from your phone or audio from the TV, so you can watch your favourite TV shows at a volume that’s comfortable for you. This technology can also help improve your experience of making and receiving phone calls by improving clarity so you can hear better.

You don’t even need to take your hearing aids out to adjust them or change the volume settings. You can do this with just a few taps on your phone or simply let your hearing aids automatically adjust themselves. If you have a habit of forgetting where you have put your hearings aids then there’s even a smartphone app that can now help you find them just like when you mislay your keys.

Own Voice Processing (OVP)

Some hearing-aid users can experience occlusion in their ears which is an increase in the loudness of their voice as a result of their ear canal being blocked by their hearing aid. OVP can detect your voice and process it separately from external sounds which can help reduce the chance of occlusion from occurring.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

While you may have heard of AI technology, you may not know that it can now be incorporated into your hearing aids. With this technology, you can monitor your wellbeing by tracking your daily steps, social interactions and active listening. It can also help to keep you safe by detecting falls and immediately alert your emergency contacts to let them know.
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 that your hearing has changed recently or even gradually over time, you should schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional as soon as possible. They will evaluate your hearing and help you find the hearing aid that best suits your hearing needs, budget and lifestyle.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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