A Guide to Hearing Aids
As a person who suffers from hearing loss, I understand why hearing loss is a serious concern for many individuals regardless of the magnitude at which it occurs. Perhaps the most effective way to solve the problems of hearing loss is to use a hearing aid. The devices are electroacoustic, functioning by amplifying the acoustic noises of everyday life so that a user can hear them. Originally, hearing aids were funnel-like structures that were questionably more trouble than they were worth. They gained the nicknames “ear trumpet” and “ear horn.” As technology advanced, so did the production of hearing aids. Now they are designed with small electronic parts, the three most basic being a microphone, an amplifier and a speaker. As you might imagine, the microphone receives the sound and converts it into an electric signal. The amplifier then boosts the strength of those signals and sends them through the speaker to the person using the hearing aid.
Types of Hearing Aids
As an individual who is hearing impaired and who has children who are also deaf, I have acquired a great deal of information on the types of hearing products available over time. Here are some of the most commonly found types of hearing aids.
- Body Worn
The first commercially produced hearing aid was known as a Body Worn Aid. The microphone and amplifier were housed in a case about the size of a deck of playing cards which could be kept in your pocket or hooked onto your belt. When the case reacted to acoustic noise, it would then transmit the signal through a cord that was connected to an ear mold containing a speaker. While Body Worn Aids were certainly cutting edge technology when they were first produced, they have since phased out nearly completely.
Behind-the-Ear, or BTE hearing aids house their microphones in a small box or case that sits between your head and the helix of your ear. Behind-the-ear hearing aids are the most noticeable style because of this case. However, they are still preferred by many people. Additionally, BTE hearing aids have a slender tube that runs from the case, across the front of the ear and into the ear canal. This tube serves an important purpose. Once the box has received the acoustic sound and transformed it into an electric signal, it sends it to the amplifier and then down, through the tube, into the ear canal-housed speaker. BTE hearing aids are safer than other styles because they place less emphasis on the ear canal. The majority of the device rests outside the ear, making it next to impossible to accidently get it stuck or lodged too far in the canal. However, behind-the-ear hearing aids do have the disadvantage of their exposure to environmental threats. If you sweat excessively, the sweat may damage the amplifier of your hearing aid. With ever-improving technology, there is a newer type of BTE hearing aid known as the “Mini” BTE that lessens the impact of some of its style’s shortcomings. The case is smaller than on the original BTE and the tube that connects it to the earpiece is incredibly thin. This makes the “Mini” BTE much less noticeable, which is beneficial if you don’t want to draw attention to your hearing loss.
In an in-the-ear, or ITE hearing aid, all three major components are built into a single piece of hard plastic. Their main draw is that they are less visible than their BTE brethren, though they aren’t as versatile as they cannot be used if you have extremely severe hearing loss. They are reported to work just as well for everyone else. Also, they are not recommended for children because they are built with a specific ear size in mind and children will outgrow them.
- In-the-canal & Completely-in-canal
In-the-canal, or ITC hearing aids are the smallest kind. While they are not particularly noticeable, it is more difficult to adjust and remove them. While they require fewer batteries, they also last the least amount of time without having to replace those batteries. With less battery power, they also cannot reach the levels of volume that the other styles can. However, the sound they do produce is of the highest quality. Completely-in-canal, or CIC hearing aids are a variation of ITC that are even less visible, but they rest completely in the ear, causing even more difficulty with adjusting and removal. ITC and CIC hearing aids are also the most susceptible to damage from earwax and other fluids in the ear.
There are other types of hearing aids as well as more variations to those listed above. Visit the following sites for more information:
All about hearing aids including info on how they work and how to take care of them. Via the NIDCD.
Styles of Hearing Aids as described by UC San Diego
Generally, a single hearing aid can cost between $1400.00 and $3200.00. Behind-the-ear models tend to be found on the cheaper end of the scale while In-the-ear and In-the-canal styles are more expensive. The major brands include Siemens, Starkey, Oticon, Phonak, MicroTech, Widex, Unitron, ReSound, Sonic Innovations and a small handful of others. Having had to research pries multiple times for hearing aids for myself and my children, I understand that it can become tedious browsing the various models for each of these brands. Fortunately, lists comparing the prices can be found online and usually include many of the models for each of these popular brands. Hearing aids can also be bought wholesale for as low as $300.00 or less.
Batteries and Accessories
The price of the device itself is only the base expenditure. You will also need a supply of batteries, which can cost anywhere from five to twenty dollars each. You should consider your personal hearing aid usage when purchasing batteries. It can end up costing more buying cheap batteries that last seven days than buying more expensive ones that can last up to twelve. The situation can be avoided entirely with the purchase of a rechargeable hearing aid such as the Lee Majors Rechargeable Bionic Hearing Aid. This particular hearing aid is priced at just over $300.00, which is extremely low. However, it isn’t custom made and will not fit in every ear. Other accessories are also available including cases and cleaning supplies.
A number of hearing aids are compatible with Bluetooth technology. This means that they can connect wirelessly to a Bluetooth enabled device. For example, Bluetooth hearing aids can wirelessly communicate with enabled cell phones, meaning that you can actually use the aid as a receiver. Many hearing aids prevent the use of cellular phones because of feedback noise, so this option is incredibly beneficial. The Bluetooth enabled device has to stay relatively near the hearing aid for it to work properly. Most specifications cite twenty to thirty feet as the absolute maximum. In order to work with Bluetooth, a hearing aid must have a telecoil (a small magnet that receives signals from telephones and other devices) and/or a Direct Audio Input (which is much more expensive but allows for much greater connectivity). There is also a way to connect two hearing aids to each other via Bluetooth. If you are using two hearing aids in this manner, it will produce a sound even more natural than that of the standard in-canal model.
For more on hearing aid prices and the cost of their accessories, please visit the following sites:
An article on assistive listening devices from the Medical College of Wisconsin