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With around 2-3 babies per 1000 being born with hearing impairments in the USA, the number of deaf citizens is rising. Without the correct equipment, life can become incredibly challenging for these children. What’s more, many older Americans are struggling with hearing loss, particularly as they reach their sixties.
According to research, there are as many as 28 million people currently living in the United States that might benefit from using a hearing aid. But if you have never used this type of equipment before, you may understandably be concerned about what to look for.
Benefits of Using a Hearing Aid
Navigating the world with partial or full hearing loss can be very difficult, especially for people whose hearing has recently deteriorated. However, a hearing aid is designed to help improve the quality of the user’s hearing and as such, can bring about many benefits. Some of these benefits may include:
- Reduces the risk of falls – Think about this; if you cannot hear then you may be far less aware of what is going on around you. According to studies, for every 10db of hearing loss, you may be up to 140% more likely to suffer a trip or fall. What’s more, since much of your attention will be placed in trying to hear better, you are less likely to notice obstacles or hazards as you are moving around. Could there be a potential for the number of falls experienced by older adults in the US to drop if more people used hearing aids? Research shows that this might be the case.
- Improves balance – Since the inner ear is associated with balance, scientists have been looking into the effects of hearing aids where balance is concerned. Researchers have discovered that there is a marked difference in balance for users with hearing aids compared to those without.
- Live a better quality of life – Since many people that suffer from hearing loss are experiencing low mood, using a hearing aid may help them to live a better quality of life. If you have recently lost most or part of your hearing, you may have found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that activities you once enjoyed such as watching TV or listening to your favorite singer, are now much more difficult. A hearing aid will help you to bring back that enjoyment.
- Can alleviate symptoms related to tinnitus – Tinnitus is a condition where the patient has a constant ringing in the ears and this can become irritating at best, all-consuming at worst. However, many modern hearing aids are equipped with technology that can drown out the noise from tinnitus, further improving the user’s quality of life.
- Greater independence – For people with hearing loss, there are some activities that cannot be done without assistance and this can lead to greater dependency on those around you. But most of us would agree that living an independent life is far preferable and a hearing aid can help towards achieving this. For example, with your hearing ability improved, there may be more potential to take up certain job roles and find your own lifestyle rather than relying on government assistance.
- Helps with social interaction – Additionally, you will be more easily able to take part in conversations. If you struggle to communicate, you may find yourself relying on friends and family members to run errands, make phone calls and complete other day to day tasks for you.
- Improved confidence – Many people with hearing loss grow fearful of interacting with others in case they mishear something or have to ask people to repeat themselves. While most people would be understanding of this, it can be difficult for the affected individual but your hearing aids will likely give you a new lease on life and improved confidence.
- Helps with cognitive ability – There is some suggestion that since the brain and hearing are connected, losing your ability to hear might increase your risk of premature cognitive decline. Dementia is a crippling mental disease that sees patients losing their memory as well as their ability to function, ending up relying on others to care for them. This truly devastating condition could be potentially avoided through the use of hearing aids. In a study, results were shown that adults who used a hearing aid were able to score higher on a memory test than those who didn’t use hearing aids. There has been a lot of research into this theory and time and time again, we are seeing promising results. One piece of evidence talks about how those with hearing loss and who are not using hearing aids may be focusing so much on trying to listen that they use up much of their cognitive energy. If a hearing aid were in place, less strain would be put on the brain.
How Do Hearing Aids Work?
It is important to understand that while a hearing aid cannot restore your ability to hear, it can improve it. These small devices do this by amplifying sound so that it appears louder. What’s more, this sound can be heard regardless of whether you are in a loud or quiet environment.
Hearing aids may not be suitable for all types of hearing loss but in most cases, they will provide an effective treatment. Depending on the user, the hearing aids can be adjusted to amplify specific sounds and leave alone the ones that you don’t have a problem with. This is because most people with hearing loss have issues in certain areas such as high tones or low tones.
There are several different types of hearing aid that are worn in or around the ears but we will look at these in more detail later on. But regardless of the type of hearing aid, they all function in essentially the same way through the use of a microphone, amplifier and speaker. They are battery powered devices which pick up sound waves using the microphone and then convert these into electrical signals.
What is most impressive about these devices is that the internal computer can be set according to the level of hearing loss experienced by the user. As a result, the sounds will be filtered and adjusted to suit your needs. The sounds will be altered according to any background noise and their original volume. Once fully altered, the electrical signals convert back to soundwaves which are then delivered directly into your ear through the speaker.
Can You Buy Hearing Aids Over the Counter?
In modern society, we are used to having everything at our fingertips. If you have a headache, you can purchase low-level pain killers from pretty much any drugstore, supermarket, or gas station in the world. So, when it comes to purchasing hearing aids, many people would find it convenient to be able to purchase their equipment over the counter.
The cost of hearing aids can be very expensive but most of the time, this is because patients are getting their equipment from a doctor or other private service. The cost will not only include the hearing aid itself but any customizations you have as well as paying for the time of the specialist.
This may be essential for those with very severe hearing loss but for people with minor problems, this extortionate price may be unnecessary. As a result, a bill was passed that by August 2020, companies will have the opportunity to provide clients with over the counter hearing aids. Some of the most well-known audio brands such as Bose and Apple now have the opportunity to provide this type of equipment without a prescription and, more importantly, for a much lower cost.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are many different types of hearing aid and some of the modern devices have some very impressive functions such as Bluetooth capabilities and noise cancellation. The kind of hearing aid that you use will depend on the level of hearing loss and which sort of device you feel most comfortable using.
It is also worth thinking about how powerful a device you would need. While there is a lot of focus from manufacturers in creating smaller, more discreet devices, these may not have the power that something larger would benefit from.
One of the greatest benefits of the behind-the-ear or BTE hearing aid is that it is suitable for almost any type of hearing loss. This is probably a design that you are familiar with as aside from being the most versatile, it is one of the most used devices.
A BTE hearing aid fits over the ear and features a tube that connects the earpiece to the hearing aid and this is used to move sound from the microphone into your ear. These hearing aids are able to amplify many more sounds than other types of device and while they may be larger, they are also much easier to adjust and are known to cause fewer secondary problems like a build-up of wax or ear infections.
A receiver in the ear hearing aid, which is often referred to as a RITE or RIC hearing aid has a receiver that is placed inside the ear while the device hooks over the ear. One of the biggest drawbacks to this design is that maintenance tends to be a little more difficult owing to the fact that you cannot submerge the earpiece to clean it.
However, these are incredibly small hearing aids which have enough power to help most types of hearing loss and are therefore versatile and discreet. That being said, they can sometimes be so small that users forget they are there.
Many people who use hearing aids will be familiar with the concept of occlusion. This is where the voice of the user sounds louder inside the head owing to the presence of a hearing aid within the ear canal. However, this type of device is known to perform much better in this regard. That being said, since the device often sits very deep inside the ear canal, there is a higher risk of the receiver becoming clogged with wax.
For some users, wearing the hearing aid inside the ear canal is a preferable option. However, there are further choices to consider; hearing aids that can be worn inside the ear come in two different forms.
In the canal hearing aids are excellent in terms of battery life and are known to have the longest running batteries meaning that they are a good choice for people with busy lives. They sit in the outer ear and are very discreet. They come in two forms; one that fills just the lower portion of the outer ear, known as a half shell and one that fills the entire outer ear, known as a full shell.
Both types benefit from directional microphones and are powerful enough to help people with everything from mild through to severe hearing loss. They have a wide range of features that may not typically be found on other smaller devices such as volume control and they are much easier to handle.
For users who want an in-ear hearing aid that is even more discreet, an in the canal device might be suitable. However, since these small devices tend to have far less power and so may not work as well for people with profound hearing loss.
These tiny devices are custom made to fit the shape of your ear so you will always get a comfortable fit. Furthermore, owing to how deeply they sit inside the ear, they tend to have far fewer, if any problems with things like occlusion and wind interference.
Many of these types of hearing aids will come with a remote control which makes them much easier to operate and there are some which can be used in the shower. However, a lot of users notice that these small devices are susceptible to wax build-up.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Hearing Aid
One of the best ways to ensure that the hearing aid you choose will be suitable for your needs is to discuss the situation with your doctor who will be able to offer you the most tailored advice. However, it is important that you know what to look for when choosing a hearing aid so that you can take a more active role in your own care.
Size & Style
We have looked at the various types of hearing aid that are available and when making your choice, you should always ensure that the type you are selecting is suitable for your level of hearing loss. For example, if you have very severe hearing loss, you will likely find that ITE devices may not work as well as a BTE.
BTE and RIC hearing aids are typically preferred by patients with more intense hearing loss as they are the most powerful devices. Not only this but they are incredibly easy to use and won’t take long to get to grips with.
If your hearing impairment is not quite as severe, you may be able to use an in-the-ear device. Users with limited dexterity may find that these are easier to handle as they simply slide into the ear. However, if your ear canal does not have a uniform shape, you may struggle to wear this type of device. That being said, there is the option to have them custom made.
Considering your level of hearing loss is one of the best ways to decide on the correct style of device. However, you may also want to think about your lifestyle. If you are someone who leads an active lifestyle, it can be worth speaking to an audiologist who will be able to offer you advice on the best type of hearing aid to match your needs. If you spend a lot of time doing water-based activities like swimming or sailing, it might be worth looking at a waterproof hearing aid. Furthermore, people who work in loud environments may benefit from a hearing aid that offers excellent noise reduction.
Our modern lifestyles rely strongly on communication with others and using the telephone is an essential way of doing this. However, your hearing aid will need to have the correct features to make using the phone as easy as possible and for the most part, this is through the use of a telecoil.
The telecoil is a small electromagnetic coil within the hearing aid that can pick up on the telephone signals and amplify them. In a lot of cases, this will happen automatically as the user brings the phone towards their ear.
Alternatively, there are telecoils that will work with phones that are compatible with hearing aids and this works on a memory basis. The downside to this type of telecoil is that most smartphones do not have the correct compatibility.
Even if you are using hearing aids, background noise can affect how well they work and you may still struggle to make sense of the sounds around you. For this reason, it is essential that you choose a hearing aid that has sufficient noise reduction. If you are often in a loud environment, this is even more important.
Quite often, modern hearing aids will feature digital noise reduction and while this can be effective, we still have a way to go with this technology since it can sometimes cancel out noise that you may need to hear.
Many headphones feature a type of noise reduction called Active Noise Cancellation or ANC which uses microphones to pick up on incoming sounds. If these sounds are recognized as not being needed, they are converted into inverted soundwaves and not perceived by your ears. As far as hearing aids are concerned, some brands are now bringing in dynamic noise cancellation which picks up on the level of background noise and switches the hearing aids to an appropriate program to cancel this noise out.
In days gone by, feedback was a big problem for hearing aid users but there has been more and more focus placed in reducing this. In short, this type of technology can be used to cancel out any whistling that may result from the hearing aid. But what is really great about this is that the user never has to hear that piercing sound as the feedback is cancelled before it has a chance to register with the user.
Technologically speaking, feedback cancellation works with the use of a filter. Any output from this filter is removed from the microphone, therefore cancelling out any sounds.
It’s hard to find a device nowadays that doesn’t come with some sort of smart technology. If you want the option to connect your hearing aids to your smartphone for streaming or to your TV for a more comfortable viewing experience, both of these things are possible. Furthermore, there is the option to connect your hearing aid to your landline telephone to make using this even easier.
Typically, linking to things like your laptop, smartphone, or tablet will be done using a Bluetooth connection which is reliable and easy to use. What’s more, there are many other devices that can be paired with your hearing aid such as compatible landline phones, TV remotes, and even wireless microphones to help you pick up speech much more clearly.
Depending on the type of hearing aid you are using and the device that you want to connect you, you may need to use an intermediary device to make the connection.
Tinnitus can be an incredibly difficult condition to deal with but some of the best hearing aids come with a feature that will help to mask this. Quite often, white noise is played through the speaker of the hearing aid which will not distract you from going about your day but will block out the ringing in your ears.
Using hearing aids with a tinnitus masking function will help you to better hear sounds that you may have otherwise struggled to hear. What’s more, as a type of sound therapy, this tinnitus reduction function may be able to help the brain focus on non-tinnitus sounds giving an overall improvement of the condition. If nothing else, it can bring some much-needed relief and improve your overall wellbeing.
Pretty much every hearing aid will be powered by a battery but the type of battery will vary between devices. Typically, you will have a choice between disposable batteries and those that can be recharged. Of course, the latter is far more eco-friendly as there will be less waste but there is the downside of having to wait for your batteries to charge before you can use your device again.
Many of the newer rechargeable hearing aids offer a longer battery life, more convenience, and better reliability when compared to old nickel or silver zinc batteries. That being said, disposable batteries are great if the power runs dry halfway through the day as you can simply pop in a new battery and get on your way.
Rechargeable hearing aids are typically better for people with limited dexterity as, for the most part, they do not need to be removed and remove the frustration of having to deal with small, fiddly batteries. What’s more, you won’t need to worry about the cost of purchasing additional batteries as often as using disposable ones.
However, disposable batteries tend to fit into smaller hearing aids. If you are looking to find a smaller hearing aid for either comfort or aesthetics, then a disposable battery may be more suitable.
Warranty & Trial Period
While you may believe that you have found the perfect hearing aid to meet your needs, you might try it for a few weeks and decide that there are issues that you cannot live with. In this case, a trial period is imperative. Many hearing aid companies will offer this but it is worth looking at the length of the trial and whether you will be charged a return fee.
Since this is a piece of electrical equipment, the hearing aid should come with a warranty. The longer this is, the more cover you have in the event that something goes wrong.