Technological and medical advances have led to a variety of new treatments for hearing loss. With so many to choose from, how can you know which treatment is best for you? The choice depends in part on the kind of hearing loss you have.
- Conductive hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear is unable to conduct sound to the inner ear.
- Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear or auditory nerve no longer detects sound waves normally.
- Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.
Fortunately, there are treatment options to help improve your hearing regardless of what type of hearing loss you have.
Removable Hearing Aids
Hearing aids amplify sounds and make them easier for the inner ear to detect. The electronic components of hearing aids are typically either analog or digital.
- Analog hearing aids convert sound into electrical signals, which are then amplified. They work like a microphone attached to an amplifier and can be programmed for different environments, such as a small room or a crowded restaurant.
- Digital hearing aids convert sound into numbers, which are then converted back into sound. They work like an mp3 player and can be programmed to amplify only the frequencies where your hearing loss occurs. In general, digital hearing aids are more flexible for matching an individual's hearing loss. But they are also more expensive.
Both analog and digital hearing aids come in many different models, including:
- Behind-the ear. Used for mild to severe hearing loss, this type of hearing aid consists of a plastic case for its electronic components that is worn behind the ear. The sound is transmitted through an ear mold that is inserted into the outer ear. Because behind-the-ear aids are relatively large, they are powerful at amplifying sounds.
Open-fit. Like behind-the-ear aids, open-fit hearing aids are worn behind the ear. Sounds are relayed through a narrow tube that is inserted into the ear canal. Unlike behind-the-ear aids, open-fit aids allow the canal to remain open. Some people prefer them because:
- They don't create a "plugged-up" feeling.
- They are less likely to be damaged by earwax.
- They are smaller in size, which makes them harder to see.
- In-the-ear. In-the-ear hearing aids are used for mild to severe hearing loss. Their components are so small that they fit completely inside the outer ear. Like some behind-the-ear aids, some in-the-ear aids are designed with a small magnetic coil, called a telecoil. Telecoils make it easier to talk on the phone. They can also pick up signals from systems called induction sound loops that are installed in public places such as churches, schools, airports, and auditoriums. In-the-ear hearing aids are not recommended for young children because their outer ears are still growing.
- In-canal. Used for mild to moderately severe hearing loss, in-canal hearing aids are small enough to fit completely inside the ear canal. This means they are far less visible than other hearing aids. But their size makes them difficult for some people to adjust and remove. They are also less powerful than larger hearing aids and typically cannot be equipped with a telecoil.