Hearing loss is the second most common disability in the UK, with about one person in every seven affected.
Difficulty with hearing falls into two main categories: there is either a problem with the transmission of sound between your outer and inner ear (conductive hearing loss), or something is not working properly in the inner ear or en route from your inner ear to your brain (sensorineural hearing loss). In addition, there is a sliding scale in the measurement of hearing impairment, from mild deafness, where you may have difficulty following speech in noisy surroundings, through moderate and severe, to profound deafness, where you rely on lip-reading and sign language to communicate.
There are many different types of hearing aid available so how do you know which will be the best one for you?
This article is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
Types of hearing aid
All hearing aids are comprised of a microphone, amplifier, and processor (or receiver). The microphone receives sound and sends a signal to the amplifier, which is then processed into output and can be delivered to the individual in a form suitable to their physiology. The kind of output the hearing aid delivers depends on whether it is an acoustic, bone conducting, or electronic hearing aid.
Acoustic hearing aids are the most commonly used types and work by amplifying airborne sounds and sending it to the eardrum via the usual pathways.
This hearing aid works by transmitting sound to an oscillator which vibrates against the skull. The inner ear picks up these vibrations and interprets them as sound, bypassing the external auditory canal and the middle ear.
This method of hearing aid involves electrodes being inserted into the cochlea to stimulate the acoustic nerve, or directly onto the auditory areas of the brainstem (if you do not have an acoustic nerve). These hearing aids are sometimes called cochlea implants.
Technology of the acoustic hearing aid
The electronics inside hearing aids use different technology to amplify and output sound:
Basic analogue hearing aids
Basic analogue technology amplifies all sounds equally. The level is set by your consultant, although it can be altered at a later date if required. You will probably need to adjust the volume on the hearing aid yourself, depending on whether you’re in a noisy or quiet environment. This type of hearing aid is best suited to people who communicate mainly in quiet situations.
Programmable analogue hearing aids
This type of hearing aid gives your consultant the ability to programme it to amplify sounds differently: quiet sounds more, loud sounds less or not at all. Some even have multiple settings which allow you to switch programmes according to your situation. This can either be done by remote control or by pushing a button on the device.
Digital hearing aids
These types of hearing aid are bespoke to your particular needs. A computer chip converts incoming sound into digital code, which then outputs the information as sound waves in a format suitable to both your hearing loss and your listening needs.
Common ways of wearing a hearing aid:
- Behind the ear (BTE)
- In the ear (ITE)
- In the canal (ITC)
- Completely in the canal (CIC)
- Bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA)
- Cochlear and Auditory brainstem implants
Most people are helped by the conventional acoustic hearing aid (whether it’s behind the ear, in the ear, or in the canal, analogue or digital), however certain conditions in your physiology may mean you’re a better candidate for bone conducting aids, or the electronic type. Your consultant will advise you thoroughly on this issue.
We advise you to talk to your consultant thoroughly about which type of hearing aid would be most suitable for you, taking into account the ways of wearing it, your physiological needs, your lifestyle, and the price of the device.