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The Different Types of Hearing Aids and How They Work

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 30 million people in the US, 12 years and older, have hearing loss in both ears. As of 2018 about one-third of people who experience hearing loss wear hearing aids, with that number increasing each year. People may choose to get hearing aids, or not get them, for a variety of reasons. Understanding how they work and the different types is the first step to knowing what is best for you.

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Hearing aids have three main parts: the microphone, amplifier, and speaker. On the most basic level, the microphone picks up sound, the amplifier increases the strength of the sound, and the speaker gives you the sound.

Cassandra Garver, licensed hearing instrument specialist, explains it like this: “What happens is those frequencies in your inner ear or cochlea that need help through the hearing aid get stimulated and amplified so that you can hear it. From there it goes through the whole process of getting to your brain so that you can recognize what the sound is.”

It’s important to note that each hearing aid is customized to the wearer’s hearing loss. When you get hearing aids, you’ll receive hearing testing that determines how to best program the hearing aids to your specific pattern and degree of hearing loss, while also considering comfort.

Types of Hearing Aids

There are two main types of hearing aids: In-the-ear (ITE) and behind-the-ear (BTE.) ITE hearing aids are custom made to fit comfortably inside the ear canal. Some ITE aids sit closer to the outer ear, while others sit much deeper into the ear canal. With ITE aids, the microphone sits on the outermost side. Garver notes that these aids also typically have just one microphone, “because it’s more of a natural fit.”

BTE hearing aids sit on top of or behind the ear, with tubes that send sound into the ear canal through a dome or earmold. With BTE hearing aids, the exterior piece holds the battery, microphone, and volume control, and the speaker is separated inside the ear. These types of aids can have two microphones, one on top and one on the back, which allows you to better comprehend the direction of the sound. As Garver states, “So you can kind of change how you’re hearing things if you turn your head or change a program.”

With both types of heard aid, battery life will vary. Some require you to change the battery, while others offer rechargeable batteries. The smaller the battery, the more often you’ll need to change or charge it. Typically, batteries need to be replaced every 3 to 20 days.

The Importance of Hearing Aids

Choosing a hearing aid that is right for you will come down to the level of technology you desire and your unique hearing loss. In either case, there’s an option out there that’s right for you.

As Garver points out, the durability of each hearing aid is the same, regardless of lifestyle. Lifestyle does come into play, however, when choosing technology. This may dictate which option you choose. “Because the cost is dependent on the technology, and the technology kind of is dependent on the lifestyle,” said Garver.

No matter who you are or what type of lifestyle you lead, hearing is a key sense that allows us to experience the world around us fully. Whether you’re a member of the military with damaged hearing from gunfire or if you’re retired and spend most of your time at home – hearing matters.


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