But hearing loss affects people of all ages — even babies. It’s not just an old-person thing. And just like wearing braces beats the alternative of crooked teeth, wearing hearing aids helps people stay in touch with the world around them.
As with any accessory, part of pulling off wearing a hearing aid (or making others forget it’s there) is by acting like you don’t even notice it. If you continue to be the same confident person, others will focus on you, not what’s in your ears. A lot of times they won’t even notice you’re wearing hearing aids.
Want to hear what’s being said to you, by you, and about you? Here’s how hearing aids help people with certain types of hearing loss.
How Hearing Aids Help
So you went to the audiologist and found out you need a hearing aid. Your initial reaction probably wasn’t to jump for joy. If you’re used to hearing the world around you, though, you might feel lucky: Although many people are affected by hearing loss, hearing aids can only help some of them.
There are three different types of hearing loss. Hearing aids can help with one of these, a kind of permanent hearing loss called sensorineural hearing loss.
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.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are several hearing aid styles. Some are worn on the body. Others fit behind the ear or in the ear. Most people with hearing loss in both ears (called bilateral hearing loss) wear two hearing aids.
Types of hearing aids include:
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. These have two main parts. A small hard plastic case goes behind the ear that holds the electronics that make up the actual hearing aid. It’s connected to a plastic piece called an earmold that fits inside the outermost part of the ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear. BTEs are used by people of all ages to treat mild to profound hearing loss.
In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. These fit completely inside the outer ear. They can help with mild to severe hearing loss. As with BTEs, there’s a hard plastic case that holds the electronic components, but it’s joined to the earmold itself, so it’s all one piece.
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.
- 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.
Sometimes an audiologist might want to add an FM system to your hearing aid. An FM system is a great help in a classroom as it allows you to hear the teacher’s voice above any background classroom noise. Your teacher will wear a small microphone and transmitter that sends sound directly to your hearing aid and receiver using a wireless FM transmission.
Other programs can be added to your 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 he or she can recommend programs for your specific needs.
You’ll also want to 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.
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’ll be able to pick a color you prefer. Cleaning makes a difference in hearing aid comfort. A perfectly comfortable hearing aid can become pretty 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, make an effort to look over your hearing aid every night. After you take it out, give it a thorough inspection 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 don’t even notice that someone is wearing a hearing aid when meeting him or her for the first time (or, in some cases, ever!).
Even if your friends or classmates know you wear hearing aids, they’re likely to forget about them. They’ll be too busy thinking about you as a person — what you’re saying and doing — than the fact that you wear hearing aids.
It can take a little time to get used to the idea (and the feeling) of wearing hearing aids. But just keep focused on how much more you can hear with them. Most people would rather wear a barely noticeable device and be able to hear the world around them. Who’d want to miss hearing a crush say how good you look!
Reviewed by: Thierry Morlet, PhD
Date reviewed: October 2014