Hearing loss interferes with a person’s ability to hear and understand spoken communication. Identifying your hearing loss is the first step to getting help. For many people, the next step is getting fit for hearing aids. Hearing aids that are properly fitted and used can improve functional listening abilities. In turn, for many people with hearing loss, better listening ability enhances their lives and well-being as well as those of their families, friends, and co-workers.
How do I know what hearing aid is best for me?
Today there are many different types and styles of hearing aids available. The one that is best for you will depend on many factors including the amount of hearing loss you have and the listening situations you are in on a daily basis. The best way to determine the best hearing aid for you is to have your hearing tested by a licensed audiologist and discuss the options available to you.
What is an audiologist and where do I find one?
An audiologist is a professional with a Masters or Doctorate degree in Audiology who is trained to evaluate your hearing and recommend hearing aids. Audiologists work in free-standing facilities like the Center for Hearing and Communication, speech and hearing departments of hospitals, in physician’s offices, university clinics, and in private practices. You can check with the American Academy of Audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, or your state licensing board for a qualified audiologist in your area.
Will a hearing aid cure my hearing loss?
No. Hearing aids are just what the name implies; they are an aid to hearing. That is, they compensate for hearing loss. They do not restore normal hearing; however, they help you to function better in daily communication situations.
Will a hearing aid make my hearing worse?
Properly fitted hearing aids will not make your hearing worse. The audiologist should make sure they are not set too loud, and all aids have a cut off level to protect the listener from excessive noise levels. Some people who use hearing aids report that they feel as though their hearing has decreased after they take the aids out of their ears. This is because they have become used to the amplification and to hearing better while wearing the aids.
What are the different styles of hearing aids available?
There are several types of aids available on the market; the most common types of aids that are used with approximately 95% of people with hearing loss are either behind the ear (BTE) or in-the-ear aids (ITE). There are also less common types of aids called bone anchored hearing aids and extended wear hearing aids.
A behind-the-ear hearing aid rests behind your ear and is either connected to a plastic piece called an earmold or a tube that sits in your outer ear and ear canal. This carries the sound from the hearing aid into your ear. Typically these hearing aids are used with hearing losses that require more power from the hearing aids.
A newer version of the behind the ear aid is called the “open fit” hearing aid. These aids are much smaller than the traditional behind the ear aids and are connected to the earpiece by a very thin piece of tubing. The earpiece may be a “few sizes fits most” dome arrangement or may be a custom made earmold. These aids come in many colors and are appropriate for mild to moderate high frequency (high pitch) hearing losses.
A second version of the newer behind the ear aids are called “receiver in the ear” (RITE) hearing aids. RITE hearing aids take the receiver (or speaker) out of the behind the ear portion of the aid and place the receiver directly into the ear canal. The two pieces are connected by a very thin wire encased in plastic tubing. The placement of the receiver in the ear canal tends to enhance natural sound quality. These types of aids may have a custom or standard ear plug (similar to the open fit aids). These aids also come in a wide variety of colors and shapes.
An in-the-ear aid does not have the piece behind the ear. All of the mechanical parts of the aid are housed inside a plastic shell that is in the ear. In-the-ear aids come in a variety of sizes. The larger ones fill up the outer part of your ear; the smaller ones, called in-the-canal hearing aids, are inserted into the canal portion of the ear and do not fill up as much of the outer ear. Another style called a completely-in-the-canal aid is inserted deeper into the ear canal and is less visible than the other styles of hearing aids.
Bone-anchored hearing aids are used for people who cannot have anything in their ear canals due to any one of several medical conditions that prevent an aid from being worn safely in or on the ear. A metal stud (abutment) is surgically inserted into the bone behind the ear (mastoid bone). The bone anchored aid is placed on the abutment; the aid transmits sound through the abutment through vibrations of the bones in the skull.
Extended wear hearing aids are aids that are worn deep inside the ear canal and are not visible. They are worn for several months at a time and cannot be placed or removed by the user, but must be done by a hearing health care professional. These aids cannot be submerged, but users can shower while wearing them.
Is it necessary to wear two hearing aids?
If your hearing loss is the same in both ears, two hearing aids will provide more benefit than one, especially in situations with background noise. If there is a significant difference between your ears, two hearing aids may or may not be beneficial. Studies have shown that when one ear is not stimulated (that is, you only wear one hearing aid) the ability for the unaided ear to understand speech may actually decrease over time.
Are smaller hearing aids better?
Smaller hearing aids are considered by many consumers as being more modern and, therefore, more advanced. This is not necessarily true. Smaller hearing aids may be more "invisible" and acceptable cosmetically, but are only suitable for specific hearing losses. Discuss this issue with your audiologist.
Are hearing aids adjusted to an individual’s hearing loss?
All hearing aids are adjustable in some way. The overwhelming majority of hearing aids are adjusted through software on a computer. There are many parameters that can be adjusted: volume, pitch, and the approach that the aid takes to helping with background noise are a few of them. A smaller number of aids are adjustable by using a screwdriver. There are a huge number of adjustments that can be made to tailor the hearing aid to your hearing loss and to your communication needs.
Many hearing aids have more than one memory (or program). You, as the hearing aid user, choose which program you will use for listening in quiet situations and which you will use in noisy situations. Some hearing aids may incorporate programs for music or other listening situations depending on the user's needs. Some hearing aids require the use of a remote control, some have a push-button on the hearing aid to change programs, while others automatically switch from one program to another.
What are some of the options available on hearing aids?
- Directional Microphones: a pair of microphones available on some hearing aids that focuses in on a specific direction, usually where a person is speaking. These are helpful when attempting to communicate in noisy environments.
- Telephone coils (t-coil): a separate circuit that can be incorporated into most hearing aids that creates a magnetic field to give you a “direct” connection between the hearing aid and the telephone receiver. T-coils are also useful when using some assistive listening devices and in rooms that are equipped with magnetic loop sound systems. Learn more.
- Direct Audio Input: a connector available on some behind the ear hearing aids that enables the hearing aid user to connect directly to assistive listening devices and FM systems.
- Bluetooth connectivity: some hearing aids now have a Bluetooth receiver built into them so that, along with an additional device worn around the neck, they can connect to cell phones, MP3 players, television and now to landline telephones as well.
Not all of these features are available in all products. Some features may not be available depending on the size or design of the aid or the severity of the hearing loss. Talk to your audiologist about what is available for you!
What if I decide to try a hearing aid and I don't like it?
In many states there is legislation that requires hearing aids to be sold on a trial basis. The consumer has the right, within a specified amount of time, to return the hearing aids. Generally, hearing aids are paid for when they are picked up and, if returned, the money is refunded minus any cancellation fee. In most cases, dispensers charge a reasonable cancellation fee to cover the costs of ordering aids and time spent with the consumer for the evaluation. Be sure to get the cancellation policy of your dispenser in writing, prior to purchasing an aid. The Center for Hearing and Communication's policy is a 45-day trial period. The costs of the evaluation with the hearing aid and for earmolds are not refundable.
How much do hearing aids cost?
There is a wide range in the price of hearing aids. The cost of hearing aids can range from $900 to $3,500 each.
Does insurance cover the cost of hearing aids?
Check with your specific insurance plan to determine if hearing aids are covered; the majority of insurance plans do not have hearing aid coverage. Medicare does not cover hearing aids. You are encouraged to request your employer's health plan to cover hearing aids. Click here to learn about the proposed hearing aid tax credit legislation.
I seem to be "all thumbs." Are some hearing aids easier to handle than others?
The smaller the hearing aid, the harder it is to manipulate. If you can pick up a dime off a table, you will probably not have a lot of difficulty handling a standard hearing aid. Some hearing aids have larger volume control wheels to make handling easier. Some aids are equipped with a remote control that you hold in your hand to turn the aid on and off, and to adjust the volume. Since you can see the buttons on a remote, and they are relatively large, it is easier to manipulate the aids. There are some hearing aids that use rechargeable batteries, so the user does not have to worry about changing small batteries.
I have trouble using my cell phone. How am I going to handle something as complicated as a hearing aid?
You don't need to be an electronics expert to use hearing aids. As with most new things, there are things to learn and a period of adjustment. Your audiologist should teach you how to put the hearing aids in your ear, how to adjust the volume or settings, change the battery, clean and care for them. Your questions and feedback are essential to your feeling comfortable with your hearing aids.
Is a hearing aid “the answer” or are there other things that can help my hearing loss?
When you are fit with hearing aids there are other ways to increase the benefit you can get with the aids. Speechreading (i.e., lipreading) and auditory training can greatly improve your communication while wearing hearing aids. Classes led by experts in speechreading and listening training at CHC can greatly enhance your communication skills. Click to learn more. If these are not available in your location, study-at-home programs are available. Discuss these with your audiologist for further information.
FM systems can be used along with your hearing aids in certain situations such as in very noisy places, classrooms, or large room listening situations (religious services, lecture halls, etc.).
What are assistive listening devices and can they help me?
Click here to link to our Assistive Listening Device section.
- Have a complete hearing evaluation by an audiologist who is licensed in the state where he/she is practicing. Your audiologist may also dispense your hearing aid, or you may need to go to a hearing aid dispenser following an evaluation with the audiologist. Don't buy your hearing aid from a magazine or TV ad.
- Buying hearing aids through catalogs or on the internet may at first seem like they will save you money, but a hearing aid, unlike that new toaster you purchased, needs to be customized to meet your needs, and has many facets that require follow up with a knowledgeable professional. Ongoing maintenance and adjustments are critical to the longevity and usefulness of the hearing aid and cannot be provided by your computer keyboard! You should expect to pay a fee for any visit you need with an audiologist after you buy a hearing aid on-line.
- When you decide to get a hearing aid, be sure your audiologist or dispenser can show you a range of products from different manufacturers.
- When selecting aids, focus on performance and how well you can understand speech rather than cosmetics. That said, many hearing aids today are available in a variety of colors and designs so you can choose decorative aids you may enjoy. Ask for them!
- Ask for the return policy in writing. Check to see what kind of orientation and follow-up is included in the price and care plan.
- Hearing aids take getting used to. They don't fix or cure a hearing loss. Remember, your Aunt Tillie's or favorite celebrity’s hearing loss and experiences with hearing aids are different from yours. The best hearing aid for you is the one that works best for you.
- Explore assistive listening and alerting devices. There are many devices available at reasonable cost that can assist the hearing aid user in particular situations, easing stress and increasing your safety and communication ability.