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Hearing aid guides are not uncommon, but the majority are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too long or complicated, adding more confusion rather than less.

My guess is that you’re a great deal less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and more interested in discovering the right technology at an acceptable price. Your objective is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll benefit from this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be ready to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Digital Hearing Aids Work

Selecting a hearing aid can feel intimidating—there are several brands and seemingly endless considerations. But it’s not as complicated as it seems. As you move through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function basically the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone registers external sound and delivers it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The revised sound signal is then directed to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the individual has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker renders the enhanced sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

In addition, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting switches, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two significant ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll cover these in the next two sections.

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three main styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then fastened to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are convenient to handle and maintain, generally have a longer battery life, and can accommodate severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the external part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but larger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less detectable than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely within the ear canal, causing them to be almost or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the contours of the ear, and some types can be used for several months at a time.

When selecting a style, take into account the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and determine the most suitable style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

After you’ve decided on the most suitable style, you can figure out which of the following advanced features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the interruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while minimizing the static brought on by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based on your environment, for example in a tranquil room at home versus in a busy restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as televisions, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones transforms your hearing aids into top-quality wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be regulated from the phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning kits, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you determine which hearing aid accessories you may need or want.

Choosing the Right Hearing Aids

Before investing in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a reputable, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with adequate experience can test your hearing properly, which is vital for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your choice of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two aspects with your hearing specialist and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Establish a budget. Some would state that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing specialist can uncover the right hearing aid at an affordable price.
  4. Test out your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to set realistic expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to work. Your patience will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What feels like a complicated process is in fact easily manageable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your options. With the assistance of your local hearing care professional, you can discover the most suitable technology at the right price—so you can start taking pleasure in all of the benefits of better hearing.