Hearing Aids - What they are, how they work, types and more

When we think of a Hearing Aid we visualize a bulky banana shaped case sitting behind the ear. Truth is hearing aids have come a long way from that and are now more discreet, stylish and even feature rich. In this article we will explain in detail what is a Hearing Aid, what is it’s function in helping those suffering from hearing loss, types of hearing aids and more.

How does a Hearing Aid work?

A hearing aid comprises of the following components –

Microphone – The microphone captures the sound around you and converts it into a digital message which is sent to the processor. There are different types of microphones such as directional or omni-directional, the directional ones pick up sounds only in front of the wearer whereas the omni-directional mic captures all around.

Processor & amplifier – The processor is customized by our audiologist to amplify certain sounds and remove others. Generally, the processor is programmed to enhance speech and eliminate background noises. The processed digital signal is then sent to the amplifier. The amplifier as its name states, amplifies or makes the sounds louder for the impaired person.

Receiver – These amplified sounds are then sent to the ear by the receiver. The earpiece sits comfortably in the user’s ear and helps receive the highest quality of sound!

Battery – Your hearing aid may come with either disposable or rechargeable batteries. The disposable batteries generally last upto 2 weeks whereas the internal ones are charged overnight just like your phone.

What are the types of hearing loss?

Before going to whether you need a hearing aid, it is important to ascertain what is the type and severity of your hearing loss. The different types of hearing loss are –

Conductive – When something is preventing/blocking sound from reaching your inner ear through outer or middle ear

Sensorineural – When your inner ear is damaged such as cochlea

Mixed – When you have a combination of cochlear damage and outer/middle ear problem

We have a detailed article on FAQs on hearing loss and deafness, do check out the article here.

degree of hearing loss

Image courtesy – US FDA

How severe is my hearing loss?

Hearing loss is measured in decibels hearing level or dB HL. The hearing loss level indicates the softest level of sound you can hear. The lower your limit the better is your hearing and the more severe your hearing loss, the louder sounds you are unable to hear!

0-20 dB HL – Within normal limits
This is the normal hearing which we all should aspire for! You are able to hear quiet sounds as low as 20 decibels.

20-40 dB HL – Mild hearing loss
You have mild hearing loss, i.e., you find it difficult to follow speech in noisy situations.

40-70 dB HL – Moderate hearing loss
If you are suffering from moderate hearing loss, you have difficulty following others speak without a hearing aid.

70-90 dB HL – Severe hearing loss
70 dB is the typical noise level of a passenger car or vacuum cleaner. If you are suffering from severe hearing loss, you need a powerful hearing aid or an implant!

>90 dB HL – Profound hearing loss
Your hearing is badly damaged and you have to rely on sign language or lip reading.

What are the benefits of wearing hearing aids?

Hearing aids go way beyond just improving your hearing. Poor hearing is known to have profound impact on your social life, mental health and various other aspects of your life. Here are the top 3 ways hearing aids will benefit you other than improving your hearing –

  1. We humans are social animals and hearing and speaking form the core activities of our social interactions. Once our hearing is affected, it directly impacts our social interactions and as a result we end up feeling isolated, lonely and frustrated. Using a hearing aid can help you overcome this and get back to your normal social life.
  2. Hearing aids help reduce anxiety, tension and stress. When your hearing is damaged, your brain has to put additional effort trying to understand conversations and this causes fatigue leading to anxiety, tension, stress and poor mental health. A hearing aid takes this stress off your brain and prevents lasting damage to your mental health.
  3. Researchers have found hearing loss to be associated with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and more. Diabetics are at a higher risk of getting hearing loss and it is highly recommended for patients suffering from diabetes to have regular hearing screening.

What are some limitations of hearing aids?

Hearing aids go a long way in solving hearing impairment but they have their own limitations like any other device. Here are a few limitations to keep in mind before going for hearing aids –

  1. Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing, as we have explained in this article, the cilia in your ear cannot be repaired once damaged. Hearing aids can only augment your hearing but cannot repair or restore it.
  2. Hearing aids especially analog ones, amplify sound and this can cause background noise and undesired sounds also to hear louder. This is an unwanted consequence which is addressed by modern, digital hearing aids which are capable of process and filter noises.
  3. You need to get accustomed to using hearing aids and until that period sounds may appear too loud, especially after a prolonged period when you were unable to hear properly.
  4. Battery life, maintenance and replacement maybe a minor limitation which users get used to.

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What are the different types of hearing aids?

There are mainly two types of hearing aids –

  1. Analog hearing aids convert sound waves into electrical signals which are then amplified. These are programmed by our audiologist to suit your individual needs and different settings for various environments. Analog hearing aids are generally less expensive than digital ones and are simpler to use.
  2. Digital hearing aids converts sound to digital signals which are processed, filtered, amplified and delivered to your ears. Digital hearing aids are generally more expensive as they are more customizable and offer better features. They are also more compact and more powerful than their analog counterparts.

In terms of design, hearing aids are classified as

  1. Canal – These come in 2 types – In-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-canal (CIC). ITC hearing aids fit inside your specific ear canal whereas CIC hearing aids are smaller and hidden completely in your ear. Canal type hearing aids are best suited for mild to severe hearing loss. They are not suited for kids or senior citizens who might have difficulty adjusting to small devices in their ears.
  2. In the ear – These hearing aids fit completely inside your outer ear and are best suited for mild to severe hearing loss. The electronic components are placed in a casing which sits on your outer ear. These are not suitable for children as their ears are still growing in size.
  3. Behind the ear – In Behind the ear hearing aids the components are in a hard case which sits behind your ear and a narrow tube goes into your ear canal. They are suitable for all ages and severity levels. Behind the ear hearing aids may not be discreet at times

Newer hearing aids come with additional features such as noise control & reduction, rechargeable batteries, wireless connectivity with cell phones, variable programming, etc.

Found this article about Hearing aids useful? Check out our article on Do I need a hearing aid? How do I choose the right hearing aid? and more here.

hearing aids

Image courtesy – Wikimedia