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The New Hearing Aids

They're sure not what Grandpa wore.

Choosing a Hearing Aid

In the 1970s, the "conventional analog" style of hearing aid debuted, with the volume set to fit your hearing loss. With a separate volume control wheel, you could make adjustments to match the environment you were in. Later models were computer programmed but offered limited improvements in filtering out background noise.

Today, less than 10% of people use conventional hearing aids, Fabry tells WebMD. "Nearly all hearing aids today are digital -- although digital doesn't necessarily translate to expensive. Digital hearing aids are now available in every price category."

Hearing aids are traditionally not covered by insurance plans. However, in recent years some insurance plans have developed contracts with providers for certain hearing aid models -- often with out-of-pocket costs if you choose to upgrade. Employed people may be able to use money set aside in Flexible Spending Accounts - or they can contact their state rehabilitation agency or commission for help.

"Many hearing loss centers offer payment plans to help patients spread out the cost of the aids," Dibkey says.

Hearing Aid Styles

Where the hearing aid is worn - behind or inside the ear - is determined by its size. People with more severe hearing loss often need a larger size to accommodate the added circuitry and wires.

In-the-Ear (ITE): These fit completely in the outer ear and are used for mild to severe hearing loss. The case, which holds the circuitry, is made of hard plastic. ITE aids can be damaged by earwax and ear drainage, and their small size can cause adjustment problems and feedback.

Behind-the-Ear (BTE): These are worn behind the ear and are connected to a plastic earmold that fits inside the outer ear. Sound travels through the earmold (which holds the circuitry) and into the ear. BTE aids are used by people for mild to profound hearing loss. If the earmold is not properly fitted, there can be feedback - a whistling sound caused by either the fit or by buildup of earwax or fluid.

BTE hearing aids can be linked with Bluetooth cell phone technology. "The Bluetooth plugs into the ear hearing aid, so you're hearing directly from the phone into the hearing aid. It cuts out background noise," Dibkey says. "It's very cool."

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