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Hearing loss can have a big impact on your life -- from your work to your relationships and emotional well-being. For many people, hearing aids can greatly help, especially if you choose the right ones and get help adjusting to them. Here's what you need to know about hearing aids.

How Hearing Aids Help

A hearing aid is an electronic device designed to improve your hearing. Small enough to wear in or behind your ear, hearing aids make some sounds louder, improving hearing and speech understanding. They may help you to hear better when it's quiet and when it's noisy.

Not everyone with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. But only 1 in 5 people who could benefit actually wear them. Hearing aids are most commonly used for people with hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve (called sensorineural hearing loss) from:

  • Disease
  • Aging
  • Injury caused by noise or medications

When hearing loss is due to problems with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear, that's conductive hearing loss. Most conductive hearing loss can be improved or corrected with surgery or other medical help.

People may choose not to manage their conductive hearing loss with medicine or surgery. If the person has an open ear canal and a relatively normal external ear, a hearing aid may help with conductive hearing loss.

Some people are born without an external ear or ear canal, which prevents use of a conventional hearing aid. These patients may be able to use a bone conduction hearing aid instead of a conventional device.

If you do not already know an ear, nose, and throat doctor, ask your primary care doctor to send you to one so your hearing loss can be evaluated and treated.

In the office, the ear specialist will do an exam to find the cause of your hearing loss. You will see an audiologist who will do tests to determine the type and degree of your hearing loss.

These specialists can give you a hearing aid if needed. Avoid mail-order hearing aids, which often don't fit well and don't improve hearing enough.

If you have hearing loss in both ears, it is probably best to wear two hearing aids.

Batteries power the hearing aid's electronics. Here's how the other parts of a hearing aid work:

  • A microphone picks up sound around you.
  • An amplifier makes the sound louder.
  • A receiver sends these amplified sounds into your ear, where they're converted to neural signals and sent to your brain.

 

Types and Styles of Hearing Aids

Work with an audiologist to figure out which type and style will work best, as well as any special features you need. This depends on things such as:

  • The type and severity of your hearing loss
  • Your age
  • Your dexterity
  • Your lifestyle
  • Your financial resources. Hearing aids vary greatly in price, from hundreds to thousands of dollars.
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