Approximately 37.5 million American adults over the age of 18 experience hearing troubles in their life (1). Many individuals report experiencing minor hearing difficulties, others suffer from tinnitus, and some are completely deaf. The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states that “About 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids” (2). In this article, we discuss hearing aids in more detail and share insight on the factors that you should consider when buying hearing aids for the first time.
What are Hearing Aids and how do They Work?
A hearing aid is an electronic device placed in or behind the ear that amplifies sounds so that individuals with hearing loss can engage in conversation more easily. The device consists of three primary parts, including a microphone, amplifier, and speaker.
The microphone is responsible for receiving sound which is converted from sound waves to electrical signals and sent through the amplifier. The amplifier increases the volume of these electrical signals and redirects them to the speaker so that an individual wearing the hearing aid can hear what is being said or the noises around them.
3 Different Types of Hearing Aids
There are three main types of hearing aids, namely behind-the-ear (BTE), in-the-ear (ITE), and canal hearing aids. If the option is available to you, you can choose between analog and digital versions of these different types of hearing aids.
- Analog hearing aids: amplify electrical signals converted from sound waves.
- Digital hearing aids: amplify numerical codes converted from sound waves.
Digital hearing aids are more modern and provide greater flexibility to audiologists that program the device for a user’s unique needs, allowing them to improve the listening capabilities of the device. Because of this, digital hearing aids are more costly than analog hearing aids.
1. BTE Hearing Aids
Behind-the-ear hearing aids consist of a case of electrical parts that fits behind the ear and an adjustable plastic earmold that sits inside the outer ear. The components within the case amplify sound and send it via the earmold to the ear. Modern versions of behind-the-ear hearing aids are far smaller and discrete, with a narrow tube extending into the ear canal but not completely concealing the ear canal.
2. ITE Hearing Aids
In-the-ear hearing aids consist of a case of components that fits directly inside the outer ear. Some ITE hearing aids utilize telecoil technology instead of a microphone as this enables easier communication via a cellular device (3).
3. Canal Hearing Aids
Canal hearing aids are the most discrete type of hearing aid, fitting directly into the ear canal. An in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid is designed to cover an individual’s ear canal while a completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aid is made to be hidden within the ear canal.
What to Consider Before Buying Hearing Aids for the First Time
Your audiologist will be able to advise on the best type of hearing aid for your hearing difficulties. You can also use the information below to help you make an informed decision when buying hearing aids for the first time:
Your Experience With Earwax
Believe it or not, earwax and an individual’s experience with it factors heavily into the decision-making process when buying hearing aids for the first time. This is because some styles of hearing aids are specifically designed to offset the uncomfortable buildup of earwax in the ear canal. Modern BTE hearing aids with narrow tubes hidden in the ear canal and CIC hearing aids designed to fit comfortably within the ear canal keep the ear canal open to prevent the buildup of earwax (4). This is also an important factor to consider as earwax buildup can potentially damage hearing aids, an expensive consequence of choosing the incorrect type of hearing aid.
Hearing aids are expensive investments, and individuals must consider solutions that are within their budget. Proper budgeting will help you choose a hearing aid that you can afford, offers features that you would like, and effectively aid your hearing ability. You should do your research and consult your medical scheme provider to assess financing options available to you for your purchase.
The Hearing Aid’s Programmability
Inexpensive hearing aids are standardized and offer little room for programming that could otherwise improve the device’s capabilities. You must consult your audiologist about the programmability of the hearing aid to ensure that they can provide a hearing solution to meet your expectations. Some hearing aids even offer pre-programming capabilities so that individuals can adjust settings on the fly to suit the environment they are in.
Background Noise Minimization
In the world of audio technology, noise cancellation is a critical consideration of most consumers searching for the best devices to buy. The same can be said for hearing aids, though background noise minimization is the decision-swaying factor. Background noise minimization capabilities enable hearing aids to suppress background noise while elevating the volume of speech. Hearing aids with proper background noise minimization functionality enable individuals to comfortably communicate in public spaces and crowded places. Be sure to confirm the quality of the device’s background noise minimization before making your purchase.
The Length of Warranty
Purchasing hearing aids can be a tricky process as not all devices are created equal and not all of them will work as intended for every individual. For this reason, you must purchase a hearing aid from a reputable manufacturer that includes a warranty. Warranties can provide you with financial cover if a hearing aid does not work as intended, and help you avoid costly mistakes when choosing which hearing aid to buy. Be on the lookout for warranties that will give you enough time to test the hearing aid’s capabilities appropriately as well as reduce financial risk if the hearing aid falters. The standard length of a warranty by a manufacturer is about 2-3 years long.
Ways to Protect Your Hearing
If you are experiencing hearing difficulties, then you should consult an audiologist regarding your need to procure a hearing aid. But, if you do not need a hearing aid or wish to protect your hearing from any unnecessary damage, then consider the following ways to protect your hearing:
- Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ear and instead clean with warm water and a damp towel.
- Manage your stress levels and health by eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly.
- Turn the volume down on your devices or when listening with headphones and use earplugs in extremely noisy areas.
- Consult your general health practitioner if you are having any difficulty hearing.
Hearing aids come in all shapes and sizes, with various qualities and capabilities. You should consult your general health practitioner and an audiologist if you have practiced strategies to protect your hearing but are still experiencing difficulties hearing. If you require a hearing aid, then be sure to consider the impact of earwax on your choice, your budget, the device’s programmability, its background noise minimization capabilities, and the length of the manufacturer’s warranty. With all of these factors considered, you can make the best consumer choice when buying hearing aids for the first time.