While they can’t deliver perfect hearing, a hearing aid can make life easier by enabling you to hear more than you could before. If your hearing has been getting worse for some time, it can mean you are more able to hear important everyday sounds such as the doorbell or telephone. It also makes it easier for you to hold conversations. In some cases, wearing a hearing aid can reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. It is important to remember, however, that because a hearing aid amplifies all sounds, you may still have difficulty making out individual sounds in noisy places.
Hearing aids work by amplifying sounds so that you can hear them more easily. Basic models are battery operated and are worn in or just behind your ear, but more sophisticated devices can be implanted into the inner or middle ear.
This article on hearing aids types is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Hearing aids are available in a wide variety of types, shapes and sizes. Broadly speaking, they can be either ‘external’ or ‘internal’.
External hearing aids
External hearing aids include those that you wear just behind the ear, the most commonly used style. Other types are worn inside the ear, either just inside the ear canal (‘in-the-ear’ hearing aids), or much further inside. These really tiny hearing aids are virtually invisible to other people and are often called ‘completely-in-the-canal’ hearing aids.
Analogue or digital external hearing aids are available. Digital hearing aids are becoming much more popular as they can be adjusted to your individual needs, rather than just providing making all sounds louder. However, they do still have limitations as they can’t filter out the sounds that you don’t want to hear.
Completely-in-the-canal hearing aids are extremely small and compact. Typically, the smaller the hearing aid, the smaller the components that can pick up and process the sound. The technology should improve but these hearing aids are often only suitable for those with mild hearing loss at the moment. In cases of severe deafness, or for people who have difficulty operating smaller hearing aids, body-worn hearing aids with larger components and controls that are connected to the ear using a cable can be used. However, these can be very impractical and you might find that an internal hearing aid is a better option.
Internal hearing aids
Internal hearing aids include cochlear implants, bone conductive hearing aids and bone-anchored hearing aids.
Cochlear implants in the inner ear can be very effective if your hearing loss is severe. When this type of internal hearing aid is fitted, a wire electrode is inserted directly into the cochlea in the middle ear. Cochlear implants are suitable for people who are profoundly deaf but only if they still have functional hearing nerves.
A bone conductive hearing aid conducts sound through the bones in your skull. This type of hearing aid sits behind the ear and is held in place with a headband. It works by transmitting vibrations through the skull but the hearing aid itself can be quite large and uncomfortable to wear.
Bone-anchored hearing aids are actually attached to your skull. Having one fitted involves having a small screw set into the bone behind the ear. External, removable electronic controls are then attached to the outside. These hearing aids are very effective and can be the perfect choice if you can’t wear a device inside the ear canal for whatever reason.
How do I choose what is best for me?
The first thing to consider when choosing a hearing aid is the level and type of hearing loss you have. For example, if you have relatively mild hearing loss and your hearing nerves still work well, a conventional external hearing aid may be most suitable. If you can’t wear a device in your ear canal, you may be better off with a bone-conductive or bone-anchored hearing aid. If you are profoundly deaf but your hearing nerves still work, you can experience a huge improvement with a cochlear implant and this may be the most suitable hearing aid for you.
Other things to think about when comparing hearing aids types include style, comfort and fit, ease of operating switches and controls without needing to remove the hearing aid, and whether its functions are compatible with your lifestyle – such as using telephones or visiting places with a hearing loop.
Your specialist will help you look at the options and make a decision so that you get a hearing aid that helps you as much as possible.