A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.
A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.
Hearing aid styles:
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids consist of a hard plastic case worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic earmold that fits inside the outer ear. The electronic parts are held in the case behind the ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear. BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss. A new kind of BTE aid is an open-fit hearing aid. Small, open-fit aids fit behind the ear completely, with only a narrow tube inserted into the ear canal, enabling the canal to remain open. For this reason, open-fit hearing aids may be a good choice for people who experience a buildup of earwax, since this type of aid is less likely to be damaged by such substances. In addition, some people may prefer the open-fit hearing aid because their perception of their voice does not sound “plugged up.”
- In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fit completely inside the outer ear and are used for mild to severe hearing loss. The case holding the electronic components is made of hard plastic. Some ITE aids may have certain added features installed, such as a telecoil. A telecoil is a small magnetic coil that allows users to receive sound through the circuitry of the hearing aid, rather than through its microphone. This makes it easier to hear conversations over the telephone. A telecoil also helps people hear in public facilities that have installed special sound systems, called induction loop systems. Induction loop systems can be found in many churches, schools, airports, and auditoriums. ITE aids usually are not worn by young children because the casings need to be replaced often as the ear grows.
- Canal aids fit into the ear canal and are available in two styles. The in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid is made to fit the size and shape of a person’s ear canal. A completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid is nearly hidden in the ear canal. Both types are used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Because they are small, canal aids may be difficult for a person to adjust and remove. In addition, canal aids have less space available for batteries and additional devices, such as a telecoil. They usually are not recommended for young children or for people with severe to profound hearing loss because their reduced size limits their power and volume.
Other Types of Hearing Devices:
Assistive-listening devices, mobile apps, alerting devices, and cochlear implants can help some people with hearing loss. Cochlear implants are electronic devices for people with severe hearing loss. They don’t work for all types of hearing loss. Alert systems can work with doorbells, smoke detectors, and alarm clocks to send you visual signals or vibrations. For example, a flashing light can let you know someone is at the door or the phone is ringing. Some people rely on the vibration setting on their cell phones to alert them to calls.
Over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are a new category of regulated hearing devices that adults with mild-to-moderate hearing loss will be able to buy without a prescription. OTC hearing aids will make certain sounds louder to help people with hearing loss listen, communicate, and take part more fully in daily activities. OTC hearing aids are expected to become available in stores and online in the next few years.
For more great videos on hearing aids (types, fitting, brands, reviews), I recommend you check out Doctor Cliff, AuD’s YouTube channel.
A report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found the average price of a single hearing aid is $2,300 or more. Since most people with hearing loss will have hearing loss in both ears and purchase as a pair, many people spend $5,000 or more on their hearing aids.
Medicare does not cover hearing aids, but some of the supplemental Medicare packages are starting to. Many Medicare Advantage plans include coverage for hearing aids, and some private insurers also offer discounts on hearing aids if they’re purchased through certain suppliers. Check with your insurance to find out.
The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, a law sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren and passed in 2017, is set to change (by Spring 2021) that by increasing accessibility for people with mild or moderate hearing loss by encouraging over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aid options. New OTC options could be as low as $200-$1000 per set.
Dr. Lawenda’s Bottomline:
There are so many new devices and technologies constantly coming to the market in this space. No one knows better about what you will need than an audiologist, so I highly recommend that you schedule a complete hearing evaluation with a board certified audiologist.