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Hearing Aids

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Topic Overview

What are hearing aids?

Hearing aids make sounds louder. There are many different styles of hearing aids. And you can add special features to your hearing aids. But almost all hearing aids have these parts:

  • A microphone, to pick up sound.
  • An amplifier, to make the sound louder.
  • A speaker, to deliver the sound into the ear.

What should I do if I think I need hearing aids?

If you think you have a hearing problem and are thinking about getting hearing aids, see your doctor or an audiologist. An audiologist can help determine what type of hearing aid will work best for you. The audiologist will pick a hearing aid based on the type and how much hearing loss you have and other factors. He or she can help you learn how to get the most out of your hearing aids. In general, it usually is better to wear hearing aids in both ears, even if the hearing loss in the ears is not equal.

Hearing aids need to be fitted by someone trained specifically in hearing problems. An audiologist or licensed hearing aid provider can make sure your hearing aids fit and work for your type and degree of hearing loss.

You also need to consider cost. Hearing aids can be expensive, and they are not always covered by insurance. Be sure to ask about a return policy, in case you are not satisfied with the hearing aids, and any warranties.

What are the different types and styles of hearing aids?

Hearing aids differ in how they look, what size they are, where they are placed in the ear, and how much they can amplify sounds.

Most hearing aids use digital technology. They are programmed for your needs using a computer. Very few hearing aids use analog technology.

The size of a hearing aid is not a good indicator of its sound quality.

You can wear hearing aids behind your ear, in your outer ear, in your ear canal camera.gif, or completely implanted in the ear. The kind of hearing aid you choose depends on many things, including your degree of hearing loss, your doctor or audiologist's advice, and what kind of hearing aid you want. See a picture of different styles of external hearing aids camera.gif.

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids: Most parts of BTE hearing aids are in a case that fits behind the ear. The case is connected to a plastic ear mold by a clear tube that wraps around the top of your ear. BTE hearing aids are used for all degrees of hearing loss, especially very severe hearing loss. BTE hearing aids can be made with special features, such as a telecoil that helps with hearing during phone calls and a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. They may be better for children because of safety and growth reasons.
  • "Mini" BTE (or on-the-ear) hearing aids: The mini BTE is a smaller version of BTE hearing aids. The parts are in a case behind the ear, but the case is smaller. And the tube connecting the case to the earpiece is almost invisible. Some mini BTE aids can have a very small earpiece that doesn't completely fill the ear canal. These are called "open fit" ear pieces. These ear pieces are less visible than the ear molds used with BTE hearing aids. Also, they reduce the feeling of fullness in the ear and can be more comfortable to wear.
  • In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids: The parts of the ITE hearing aid are in a case that fits in the outer part of the ear. It can be used by people who have mild to severe hearing loss. ITE hearing aids can be made with special features, such as a telecoil that improves hearing during phone calls and a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. ITE hearing aids can be easier to handle than the smaller ITC and CIC hearing aids. Children do not usually use them because the case must be replaced as the child grows. Adults who have a certain type of severe hearing loss in both ears may have the option of a hybrid device that combines a cochlear implant and an ITE hearing aid.
  • In-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids: The parts of the ITC and CIC hearing aids are in a case that fits partly or completely into the ear canal. ITC and CIC hearing aids are used by people with mild to moderate hearing loss. They are made to fit the shape and the size of your ear canal. ITC hearing aids can be made with special features such as a directional microphone system that can help you hear voices in a noisy room. Both ITC and CIC hearing aids can be damaged by earwax and fluid draining from the ear, and their small size may be difficult for some people to handle. They are not recommended for children.
  • Implantable hearing aids: For people with moderate to severe hearing loss who cannot wear an external hearing aid, an implantable hearing aid is an option. Different types of these devices are implanted surgically; others are implanted non-surgically. Because nothing is molded into the ear to block sound, some people say they hear better with implantable devices. Also, implantable devices do not create "feedback" noise. And the batteries tend to last a very long time.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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