Hearing loss affects people of all ages — even babies. Hearing aids can help those who have a type of permanent hearing loss called .
The inner ear is made up of a snail-shaped chamber called the cochlea (pronounced: KOE-klee-uh), which is filled with fluid and lined with thousands of tiny hair cells (outer and inner rows). When the vibrations move through this fluid, the tiny outer hair cells react first by amplifying sounds. Then the inner hair cells translate them into electrical nerve impulses and send them to the auditory nerve, which connects the inner ear to the brain.
Hearing aids intensify sound vibrations that the damaged outer hair cells have trouble amplifying. The more a person's outer hair cells are damaged, the higher the hearing aid is turned on.
What Are the Types of Hearing Aids?
Types of hearing aids include:
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. These have two main parts:
A small hard plastic case that goes behind the ear. This holds the electronics that make up the actual hearing aid and the battery.
An earmold that fits inside the outermost part of the ear. A plastic tube connects the earmold to the hearing aid. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. These fit completely inside the outer ear. As with BTEs, there is a hard plastic case that holds the electronic components, but it's shaped to fit in the ear, so it's all one piece. There are different size ITE. The size depends on the person and their amount of hearing loss.
An specializes in testing and helping people with hearing loss. They will help find the right hearing aid for someone who needs it. Ear molds are specially fit to a person’s ear.
Some ITEs have something called a telecoil installed. A telecoil is a small magnetic coil that allows people to receive sound through the circuitry of the hearing aid, rather than through its microphone. Telecoils can make it easier to hear conversations over the telephone. They also help people hear in public places that have installed special sound systems, called induction loop systems. Churches, schools, airports, and auditoriums often use loop induction systems.
Sometimes the audiologist might want to add an FM system to a hearing aid. An FM system is a great help in a classroom as it lets students hear the teacher's voice above any background classroom noise. The teacher will wear a small microphone and transmitter that sends sound directly to the hearing aid and receiver using a wireless FM transmission.
Canal hearing aids. These fit directly in the ear canal and come in two slightly different styles. The first, an in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid, is custom made to fit the size and shape of a person's ear canal. The second, a completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid, is slightly different from the ITC and is nearly hidden in the ear canal. Both canal hearing aids are used to treat mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
No single style of hearing aid or manufacturer is best — hearing aid selection is based on a person's individual needs.
Other programs can be added to hearing aids as well. For example, if you want to play music, ask your audiologist about a program designed for amplifying music. Also, you can use wireless accessories with hearing aids to listen to TV or your music player, play videogames, or use your phone. Talk to your audiologist about your hobbies and interests so they can recommend programs for your specific needs.
Let your audiologist know when something is not working well. It might take several tries to adjust your hearing aid. This means you may have to visit your audiologist several times, but it's worth the benefit of being able to hear your friends and what is happening around you.
How Do I Care for a Hearing Aid?
Hearing aids should be comfortable. As your ear grows, your audiologist may need to change the earmold part of the hearing aid. If a hearing aid is really irritating your ear, contact your audiologist as soon as possible. The audiologist can adjust it and make sure you get the most comfortable hearing aid possible. Being able to hear well shouldn't hurt!
Earmolds are available in fun colors or ones that match your skin so you can pick a color you prefer. Cleaning makes a difference in hearing aid comfort. A perfectly comfortable hearing aid can become uncomfortable over time if earwax builds up and is not taken care of every day. A dirty hearing aid not only can be uncomfortable, but also can lead to infections.
Most hearing aids come with cleaning instructions for that specific model. In general, though, try to look over your hearing aid every night. After you take it out, check to make sure there is no fresh earwax building up on it. If you see any wax, wipe it off with a soft cloth or tissue. Avoid wiping a hearing aid with anything rough as it might affect its structure and effectiveness.
It's true that hearing aids aren't known as a fashion item. But if you wear hearing aids, you're probably more conscious of them than other people are. Most people won't even notice that someone is wearing a hearing aid.
It can take a little time to get used to the idea (and the feeling) of wearing hearing aids. But stay focused on how much more you can hear with them. By wearing a barely noticeable device, you'll be able to hear the world around you.