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The New Hearing Aids

They're sure not what Grandpa wore.

New Hearing Aids: Digital Technology and Tiny Microphones continued...

"The directional microphone has been one of the biggest improvements in hearing aids," says David Fabry, PhD, an audiologist with Mayo Clinic for 15 years. He is now the director of clinical research at Phonak Hearing Systems, a company that specializes in wireless communication devices.

Directional mics don't fit into the tiniest hearing aids that nestle hidden in the ear canal. But "if you're looking for better satisfaction with your hearing, then you need a directional mic," says Fabry. "That is the single factor that will preserve speech understanding and filter out noise - and those are the No. 1 concerns that people have -- they want to hear better in a noisy environment."

Do You Need a Hearing Aid?

Thanks to rock 'n' roll, iPods, and a penchant for loud music, more people need hearing aids at a younger age than in the past, notes Bowie. "We see fairly severe hearing loss caused by the indiscretions of youth," he says. "We live in a fairly noisy society, with loud machinery, loud work environments, loud noise in general. Also, people are living longer, and hearing loss naturally occurs as we age."

The most common form of hearing loss - affecting one in four people over 65 -- is called sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss. This type of hearing loss occurs when something like noise, illness, injury, or infection damages either the auditory nerve that controls hearing or the hair cells in the ear that help transmit sound.

Less common is a form of hearing loss called conductive hearing loss. This is caused by earwax buildup, fluid buildup from an ear infection, or a punctured eardrum. Some people have a mixed form of hearing loss - both conductive and sensorineural.

While conductive hearing loss can often be corrected (with medical or surgical treatment), sensorineural hearing loss usually cannot be reversed. That's why hearing aids were created.

To get to the root of your hearing problem - and figure out the answer -- an audiologist will first perform a hearing test. From this test, the audiologist can determine whether hearing aids will help, and which hearing aids are best for your needs. The size of the hearing aid - and the technology - must be decided.

Some people want a simple hearing aid to hear the TV better, and appearance isn't an issue. "But for someone whose day involves conference room meetings, subway trains, noisy restaurants, and church - all these different environments - they're going to want more flexibility, like a directional microphone in a higher-end hearing aid," Dibkey tells WebMD.

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