One in every six Americans has some form of hearing loss and, if left untreated, can cause irreparable damage. However, numerous studies have discovered that people using hearing aids tend to lead much more satisfying lives and feel less stressed and tired because communication just comes easier. Hearing aid technology has made significant changes over the past several years and continues to evolve.
Hearing aids are sound-amplifying devices designed to aid people who have a hearing impairment. They are so small today and technologically advanced that they cancel out irritating background noise, enhance voices, and can connect straight to your smartphone. Most hearing aids share several similar electronic components, including a microphone that picks up sound; amplifier circuitry that makes the sound louder; a miniature loudspeaker (receiver) that delivers the amplified sound into the ear canal; and batteries that power the electronic parts. They differ by design and technology used to achieve amplification (i.e., analog vs. digital).
- Analog hearing aids make continuous sound waves louder. These hearing aids essentially amplify all sounds (e.g., speech and noise) in the same way.
- Digital hearing aids have all the features of analog programmable aids, but they convert sound waves into digital signals and produce an exact duplication of sound.
There are more than 1,000 hearing aid models on the market currently. They vary in size, function, shape, color, and price. Some measure barely an inch in size and can be hidden behind or deep in your ear, so no one will even know you are wearing them. Some of the styles include…
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids:
The behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid hooks over the top of your ear and rests behind the ear. The hearing aid connects a tube to a custom earpiece called an earmold that fits in your ear canal.
- “Mini” BTE (or “on-the-ear”) aids: The mini BTE (or “on-the-ear”) aid fits behind/on the ear, but is smaller. An almost invisible tube is used to connect the aid to the ear canal.
- In-the-ear (ITE) aids:
The (ITE) hearing aid is custom made in two styles — one that fills most of the bowl-shaped area of your outer ear (full shell) and one that fills only the lower part (half shell). Both are helpful for people with mild to severe hearing loss.
- In-the-canal (ITC) aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) aids:
The in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid is custom molded and fits partly in the ear canal. This style can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.
- Completely in the canal (CIC) or mini CIC
A completely-in-the-canal hearing aid is molded to fit inside your ear canal. It improves mild to moderate hearing loss in adults.
Mayo Clinic Guidelines Before you buy
Explore your options to understand what type of hearing aid will work best for you. Also:
- Get a checkup. See your doctor to rule out correctable causes of hearing loss, such as earwax or an infection. And have your hearing tested by a hearing specialist (audiologist).
- Seek a referral to a reputable audiologist. If you don’t know a good audiologist, ask your doctor for a referral. An audiologist will assess your hearing and help you choose the most appropriate hearing aid and adjust the device to meet your needs. You may get the best results with two hearing aids.
- Ask about a trial period. You can usually get a hearing aid with a trial period. It may take you a while to get used to the device and decide if it’s right for you. Have the dispenser put in writing the cost of a trial, whether this amount is credited toward the final cost of the hearing aid, and how much is refundable if you return the hearing aid during the trial period.
- Think about future needs. Ask whether the hearing aid you’ve chosen is capable of increased power so that it will still be useful if your hearing loss gets worse.
- Check for a warranty. Make sure the hearing aid includes a warranty that covers parts and labor for a specified period. Some offices may include office visits or professional services in the warranty.
- Beware of misleading claims. Hearing aids can’t restore normal hearing or eliminate all background noise. Beware of advertisements or dispensers who claim otherwise.
- Plan for the expense. The cost of hearing aids varies widely — from about $1,500 to a few thousand dollars. Professional fees, remote controls, hearing aid accessories, and other hearing aid options may cost extra. Talk to your audiologist about your needs and expectations.
Some private insurance policies cover part or all of the cost of hearing aids — check your policy to be sure. Medicare doesn’t cover the cost of hearing aids. In many states, private insurers are required to pay for hearing aids for children. Medical assistance covers hearing aids in most states. If you’re a veteran, you may be able to get your hearing aid at no cost through the Veterans Administration (VA).
Today’s hearing aids are not just there to help you hear better, but to let you live a richer, fuller life.