Hearing Aids - A guide to Hearing Loss

You may think of hearing aids as those large, ugly looking devices, worn on the outside of the body to enable the wearer to hear but things have moved on a great deal since then. Thanks to technology we now have hearing aids which are small, discreet and comfortable to wear. These digital hearing aids are fitted with a tiny microchip which makes it possible to tailor the hearing aid to your particular type of hearing loss.

Which hearing aid: analogue or digital?

There are two types of hearing aid:

  • Analogue
  • Digital

They both look fairly similar but the main difference is internal, and the way that they process sound:

  • Analogue hearing aids use standard electronic circuitry.
  • Digital hearing aids use a microchip.

Analogue and digital hearing aids are available in a range of different shapes and sizes. Some of these are designed to fit inside the ear whereas the others sit behind the ear.

There are sets of hearing aids which are specifically designed for a certain type of hearing loss.

What does a hearing aid consist of?

All hearing aids, analogue or digital, contain the following three components:

  • Microphone
  • Amplifier
  • Receiver

The built-in microphone is able to detect sounds and processes these before sending them to a receiver. This receiver acts like a small loudspeaker and amplifies these sounds so that the wearer can hear them. Basically, a hearing aid amplifies sounds. It will not give you back the hearing you have lost or perfect hearing but it enables you to hear the phone, listen to conversations and hear normal, everyday sounds.

They can also reduce some background noises which is useful if you are trying to follow a conversation.

If you have tinnitus then a hearing aid will reduce those unwanted noises in your ears such as whistling, hissing or buzzing.

Another way you can help your hearing is to lip-read: watch people’s lips and gestures as they speak as this can be helpful even with a hearing aid.

So what are the different types of hearing aids?

Different types of hearing aids

The following hearing aids are available in analogue or digital format:

  • Over The Ear (OTE) hearing aids
  • Completely In the ear Canal hearing aids (CIC)
  • In The Canal hearing aids (ITC)
  • In The Ear hearing aids (ITE)
  • Behind The Ear hearing aids (BTE)
  • Receiver In the Canal hearing aids (RIC)
  • Waterproof/water-resistant hearing aids
  • Disposable hearing aids
  • CROS/BiCROS hearing aids

(Source: RNID/Regional Hearing Services Ltd) But there are two types of hearing aid which are analogue only:

  • Bone conduction hearing aids
  • Body-worn hearing aids

Over the Ear hearing aids (OTE)

Also known as ‘open fit’hearing aids: an unobtrusive type of hearing aid which fits over the ear and is connected via a thin transparent tube to a practically invisible part that fits inside your ear.

This is ideally suited for sensorineural hearing loss.

Completely in the ear canal hearing aids (CIC)

These are as the name says: a type of hearing aid which is smaller than the ‘in the ear’ type of aid which fits right inside your ear canal. A very discreet type of hearing aid which because of its closeness to the ear drum, tends to naturally increase sound volume.

Not recommended for severe hearing loss.

In the canal hearing aids (ITC)

This is similar to the ‘completely in the ear canal’ type of hearing aid but don’t get confused between the two. The main difference here is that this is a bigger type of hearing aid than the other.

It also fits inside the ear canal but due to the bigger size, some of the hearing aid will be visible outside of the ear. This is also good at enhancing sound volume. It is suitable for mild to moderate forms of hearing loss.

In the ear hearing aids (ITE)

This type of aid fits completely into your ear and is easy to adjust. Its larger size enables it to contain a bigger amplifier and more controls.

Behind the ear hearing aids (BTE)

This hearing aid has one part which sits behind the ear and the other is connected via a thin tube to the other part – the ear mould, which fits nicely inside your ear.

The workings of the hearing aid are contained in the section which sits behind your ear. Some types of BTE hearing aids have twin microphones which enable the wearer to switch between two settings.

Receiver in the canal hearing aids

This small and unobtrusive hearing aid is one of the most popular. It is easy to fit and comfortable: and because the receiver sits inside the ear canal, results in an improved sound quality.

This is an ideal choice of hearing aid for a new user.

Waterproof/water-resistant hearing aids

These are ideally suited to water sports and swimming. They come with a specially designed membrane which prevents water from getting inside and damaging the components.

Disposable hearing aids

This convenient type of hearing aid is best suited to people with a mild or moderate form of hearing loss. They usually last for 10 weeks and once the battery runs out, are discarded and replaced with a new aid.

CROS/BiCROS hearing aids

CROS/BiCROS stands for ‘Contra-lateral Routing Of Sound’. A CROS hearing aid is suitable for people who are deaf in one ear but able to hear in the other.

A BiCROS hearing aid works best for people who are deaf in one ear and have some form of hearing loss in the other ear.

This type of aid works by detecting sound from the ear which is unable to hear and feeding this through to the ear which can hear (or has some hearing).

Controls on a hearing aid

These will vary between different models but they should all have the following controls:

  • ‘M’ for microphone
  • ‘O’ for off switch
  • ‘T’ setting for the telecoil

The ‘off’control is straightforward as is the ‘M’control. But what is the ‘T-setting?’

T-setting

A ‘T-setting’is another name for the ‘telecoil’: an alternative input device for a hearing aid. Your hearing aid contains a small microphone which picks up sounds and then amplifies these for the wearer. But a telecoil can be used instead of a microphone, or in addition to a microphone.

In other words it is another way of detecting sounds.

It is able to detect transmitted sound without any distraction from background noise. So it is especially useful in those environments where sounds are transmitted across a large area, for example, a theatre.

Most public spaces such as churches, shopping centres, theatres and cinemas are well suited to a telecoil as are some banks and building societies. Plus there are certain types of telephones which are suitable for hearing aids with this setting.

Look out for a sign in any of these places which states that it is telecoil compatible. It may say ‘T-setting’ or ‘loop’or ‘induction coupler’ instead.

This feature is available on both analogue and digital hearing aids. If you are not sure if your hearing aid has this feature then check with your ear specialist or hearing aid audiologist. Some of the very small hearing aids, such as the ones which fit into your ear, may not have this feature due to the lack of space to incorporate this control.

You can always check for yourself to see if your hearing aid has a T-setting: switch over from ‘M’ to ‘T’and hold it close to an analogue watch. If you can hear your watch ticking but no other noise (such as a whistling sound then you have T-setting.

If your hearing aid has this feature then your audiologist will show you how to set this up and switch over to it. Your hearing aid will be on the default setting ‘M’ (for microphone) but it is relatively easy to switch this to the ‘T-setting’ if you need to.

Other features on your hearing aid include a volume control and ‘programmes’setting. The volume control is self-explanatory although some hearing aids do this automatically. The ‘programmes’setting enables you to change this according to the type of environment you are in.

If you require (or want) two hearing aids then your audiologist will advise you on how to wear these and to get the right balance of sounds between the two.

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