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Up until recently, the intricate electronics of mobile phones often interacted poorly with the electronics of hearing aids, resulting in interference between the two devices that was perceived as static, squealing or whistling noises, or lost words. Thankfully, improvements in technology and new government regulations have made the question “Will this phone work with my hearing aid?” easier to answer. The labeling requirements mandated by the new government regulations make it easy to find a mobile phone that is compatible with your hearing aid.

Understanding the rating system requires a bit of knowledge about the modes that hearing aids can operate in. There is an M mode (which stands for microphone) and a T mode (which stands for telecoil). When your hearing aid is in M mode, it uses the built-in microphone to pick up audible sounds from around you and amplify them to make them easier for you to hear. In T mode, the hearing aid uses telecoil technology instead. The hearing aid is able to pick up the electromagnetic signals from inside the phone directly. The T mode is important when shopping for a phone, because at least 60% of hearing aids sold in the U.S. have one.

The two modes – M and T – are each rated on a scale of 1 to 4 where 1 is the lowest sensitivity and 4 is the highest. To be sold in the United States as hearing aid compatible (HAC), a mobile phone or cordless handset must have a rating of at least M3 or T3.

In addition, many hearing aids (and cochlear implants) have a similar M and T rating to measure their sensitivity and their resistance to radio frequency interference. When shopping for a phone, to determine its compatibility with your hearing aid, simply add its M and T ratings together with those of the phone to create a combined rating. A sum of 6 or more makes a solid pairing. That hearing aid and cell phone combination should work well for you. A sum of 5 is considered normal and should work fine for typical mobile phone users. A combined rating of 4 is considered usable for brief calls, but may not be suitable for extended phone use.

Since being introduced, the new rating system has made it much easier to shop for a cell phone online and determine its compatibility with your hearing aid in advance. If you are able to shop in a store that allows you to “try before you buy” and actually use the phone you want while wearing your hearing aid, that is of course a better idea.