Hearing aids are miniature electronic devices that sit in or on the ear and selectively amplify and process sounds. All hearing aids contain one or more microphones to pick up sound, a processor that amplifies and processes sound, a receiver or speaker that sends the signal into your ear and a battery for a power source.
When thinking about purchasing hearing aids, there are numerous factors to consider during your visit with a hearing healthcare professional, including: types and styles, fitting, pricing, reviews and comparisons, cleaning, repair, accessories and other associations that might help cover the costs to obtain hearing aids.
Types and styles of hearing aids
While hearing aids can be split into two broad categories – in-the-ear styles (ITE) and behind-the-ear styles (BTE) – there are several styles available with different locations in or behind the ear, allowing the wearer to find the most comfortable and beneficial fit.
The following hearing aid types are considered in-the-ear styles and vary from completely invisible and in the canal to on the outer edge of the ear bowl:
- Invisible in the canal (IIC): IIC styles are the tiniest hearing aids made. They fit very deeply in the ear canal and are typically fit for mild or moderate hearing losses and offer high cosmetic appeal as they’re nearly invisible when worn.
- In the canal (ITC): ITC hearing aids sit in the lower portion of the outer ear bowl, making them comfortable and easy to use. Because they’re slightly larger than IIC and CIC styles, they have a longer battery life and can fit a wider range of hearing losses.
- Low profile: Low profile instruments range from half shell designs that fill half the bowl of the outer ear to designs that fill almost the entire outer ear bowl. The size of a low profile style makes it desirable for people with dexterity issues because it is easier to handle than the smaller sizes.
If an in-the-ear hearing device isn’t suitable or desired by a patient, there also are numerous behind-the-ear styles available, including:
- Mini BTE with slim tube and tip: Mini BTE styles are designed to hide behind the outer ear and have ultra-thin tubing to discreetly route sound into the ear. This style is so popular that more occluding ear tips have become available in order to accommodate a greater degree of hearing loss with the mini BTE.
- Receiver in the ear (RITE): RITE hearing aid styles are mini BTEs that have the speaker built into the ear tip instead of the main body of the hearing aid. This allows the speaker of the hearing aid to rest in the ear canal, but the microphone and processer sit in a tiny case behind the ear.
- BTE with earmold: BTE styles that come with earmolds can fit any type of hearing loss, from mild to profound. Their longer shape follows the contour behind the outer ear and can generally house more features, controls and power than any other style of hearing aid.
Hearing aid technology
Because hearing aids today are digital and programmable, the amplification can be fine-tuned and tailored for each wearer. Basic hearing aids usually require some manual adjustments depending on the type and degree of loss experienced by a person. Basic hearing aids allow for some customization, but are limited in the amount of adjustments to fit unusual patterns of hearing loss. Advanced hearing aids offer several different levels of technology. As the level of technology increases, hearing devices are more automatic, equipped with more features and allow for a more-personal experience.
The hearing aids produced today utilize wireless technology. This allows two hearing aids to operate together as one complete system, instead of acting as two independent devices. Additionally, wireless technology allows hearing aid users more ability to customize their experience and program their device.
Wireless hearing aids are often capable of wirelessly communicating with external devices as well, such as Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth enables hearing aid wearers to connect personal electronic devices and stream signals directly to the hearing aid. Wireless hearing aids can use compatible assistive listening devices, often called streamers, to provide a communication link between the wireless technology in the hearing aids and any Bluetooth-enabled device.
Hearing aid fitting
Once a hearing healthcare professional recommends hearing aids for an individual, a number of factors will be considered when selecting and fitting a device. The hearing health practitioner will take the hearing test results into consideration to determine the severity of hearing loss. Additionally, the audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will take your lifestyle and preferences into account. There are certain features hearing aids offer which might be more suitable for individuals seeking more time outdoors.
Because hearing aids are such a specific, personalized piece of technology, not every brand or style of device will be suitable for everyone. This can make comparing and reviewing hearing aids difficult. It’s best to talk to your hearing healthcare provider about what options and features are ideal for your particular loss.
Hearing healthcare professionals will perform an initial fitting where they fine-tune features and adjust levels to ensure the hearing aid wearer is getting the most out of the device. It is important to note there is an adjustment period when wearing a new device, so in order to get used to the new aid a user should follow the audiologist’s instructions. A hearing aid shouldn’t be painful, however, so if an individual is experiencing pain they should contact their provider immediately.
Hearing aid pricing
Hearing aids are tiny pieces of technology, which can be described as tiny computers for your ears. Because of the technology hearing aids require to operate, they generally cost anywhere from a $800-4,000 per ear. Hearing aids can vary from basic, with few customizable features to advanced, which offer more personalization, this accounts for the cost variance.
Depending upon the individual, there may be some assistance programs available. If eligible, the American Association of Retired Persons offers a hearing aid program with consultation, devices and batteries at a discount. While Medicare generally doesn’t cover hearing aids, some advantage plans in certain states offer some coverage on consultations or the initial purchase. The Veterans Administration offers consultation, hearing device purchase and follow-up appointments at no cost to applicable veterans. Contact these organizations to find out if you are eligible for any programs.
Hearing aid insurance
While many individuals pay out of pocket for their hearing devices, it’s good practice to discuss any coverage options with your insurance provider. Most plans have a toll free number for member services listed on the insurance card. Insurance coverage for hearing aids, when provided, can come in many forms, from a certain percentage of total hearing aid cost to covering the initial consultation with the audiologist.
Many states have passed legislation which require insurance carriers to offer coverage for certain individuals and children, check with your provider regarding their policy.
Hearing aid upkeep
While many hearing healthcare professionals offer hearing device cleaning at no cost, it’s good practice to follow at home. For daily upkeep, use a dry cloth or tissue daily to remove any dust, earwax or moisture from your device. This allows the hearing aid user to be more aware of the condition the hearing aid is in and how well it’s functioning.
From time to time, it’s possible a hearing aid might need some repairs. While many problems can be easy to troubleshoot at home, if the user begins hearing an increased amount of static or feedback, finds the volume is going in and out or experiences any other general interference it would be a good time to take the aid into the hearing center for diagnosis. Also, if the device is running through batteries more frequently or if any parts or tubes become dislodged, it’s important to allow a hearing healthcare professional to look at the device.
Hearing aid accessories
Once an individual has purchased and selected a hearing aid, it’s a good idea to consider any accessories that might be desired or needed. Accessories can range from basic to more advanced and are available depending upon what device a hearing aid wearer uses. All hearing aids require batteries, so it’s important to know what size is needed for a particular device.
Additionally, cleaning tools, Bluetooth-capable technology and hearing aid dehumidifiers are accessories which often complement devices.