Hearing aids

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This content was last reviewed on: July 8th, 20162016-07-08 13:04:00

Hearing aids are the most common treatment for hearing loss. Learn about styles, features and technologies available in modern hearing aids.

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So, you have hearing loss. Now what?

First, rest assured: you’re not alone. In fact, nearly 38 million Americans have hearing loss. For many people, hearing aids are the best option for correcting hearing loss and resuming a high quality of life. Today’s hearing aids are tiny technological marvels, and many options are available to suit every preference, budget, hearing loss and lifestyle.

Here you will find an overview to help you understand your options, but please follow the links to the other pages in this section for a deeper understanding of modern hearing aids.

Types and styles of hearing aids

All digital hearing aids contain at least one microphone to pick up sound, a computer chip that amplifies and processes sound, a speaker that sends the signal to your ear and a battery for power. These components are the “guts” of the hearing aid, and they are packaged into several different styles of hearing aids. When you consult with a hearing care professional, they will consider many factors and help guide you toward the best hearing aid style for you.

Hearing aids can be classified into two main groups: in-the-ear (ITE) styles and behind-the-ear (BTE) styles. Within each group are several different sizes.

The following hearing aid types are considered ITE styles. Their sizes range from virtually invisible when worn to filling the entire bowl of the ear.

  • Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids: IIC and CIC 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. Their size and ability to “disappear” when worn depend on the size of the ear canal. Because of their tiny size, they offer high cosmetic appeal for people who desire a discreet solution.
  • In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids: ITC styles sit in the lower portion of the outer ear bowl, making them comfortable and easy to use. Because they are slightly larger than IIC and CIC styles, they have a longer battery life, are easier to handle and can fit a wider range of hearing losses.
  • Low profile hearing aids: Low profile styles range from half-shell (HS) 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. Low profile hearing aids are large enough to accommodate helpful features like directional microphones, volume controls and program buttons.

Behind-the-ear styles have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last decade thanks in part to innovations that make the tiniest BTE hearing aids some of the most cosmetically appealing with very thin ear tubes and ear tips that fade discreetly into the ear canal. They have enough physical space to house features for a variety of hearing losses, have ample battery life and are easy to handle.

  • Mini BTE hearing aids with slim tubes and tips: 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 a greater variety of ear tips have become available in order to accommodate a greater degree of hearing loss with the mini BTE.
  • Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) or receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aids: RITE and RIC styles 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 be positioned closer to the eardrum while the microphone and processor sit in a tiny case behind the ear.
  • BTE hearing aids with earmolds: 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

Modern hearing aid technology advances quickly with new innovations from major manufacturers each year. Most manufacturers group their products into categories based on features and capabilities, similar to how an automobile maker might categorize its vehicles. 

Nearly all modern hearing aids are digital and require professional fitting and programming by a hearing care practitioner. These hearing aids offer far greater flexibility than previous hearing aid generations because the programmer can set them to amplify precisely the frequencies needed for each individual. As the level of technology increases from basic to advanced, hearing aid features become more automatic and more dynamic to adjust quickly to any listening situation. Some hearing aids today even have user-centered features like voice prompts for low battery and program changes.

Many of the hearing aids produced today use wireless technology. This allows two hearing aids to operate together as one complete system, instead of acting as two independent devices. This action mimics the way two properly functioning ears work with the brain to process sound. Additionally, wireless technology gives hearing aid wearers a greater ability to customize their experience and program their devices.

Wireless hearing aids are often capable of connecting with external devices as well, such as MP3 players, TVs, computers and mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth enables hearing aid wearers to connect personal electronic devices and stream signals directly to their hearing aids. Today’s hearing aids do more than just help you hear better. They are sophisticated consumer electronics devices that boast amazing technology. Some hearing aids can even connect to technology that can help automate things around your home like your home’s security system, lighting, television and even your coffee maker!

Hearing aid fitting

Once a hearing healthcare professional recommends hearing aids for you, a number of factors will be considered when selecting and fitting a device. The best fit for you will depend not only on the severity and type of hearing loss you have but also the following factors:

  • Budget
  • Cosmetic preferences
  • Social preferences
  • Career demands
  • Hobbies
  • Other physical challenges and dexterity issues
  • Attitudes about technology
  • Any needed accessories

Because hearing aids are such personalized marvels of technology, not every brand, style or technology level of hearing aid is suited for everyone. Even two people with the same hearing loss may end up with different hearing aids based on other selection criteria. 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 you.

Hearing healthcare professionals will perform an initial fitting where they fine-tune features and adjust levels to ensure you are getting the most benefit from the devices. It is important to note there is an adjustment period when wearing new devices, and it takes time to get used to new hearing aids, even if you’ve worn some type of hearing aid for many years. Wear the hearing aids according to the instructions of your hearing healthcare professional and keep them informed of any challenges you encounter along the way.

Hearing aid pricing

Hearing aids are sometimes described as tiny computers for your ears. Because of the sophisticated technology and miniature size, hearing aid prices can range from less than $1000 to as much as $4,000 per ear for the very best technology. Features, size and level of personalization can all account for differences in cost.

While most insurance programs do not yet cover hearing aids, some hearing healthcare providers offer their own financing, such as 90 days same as cash, that will allow you to spread the cost of hearing aids over a longer time. Third-party financing is available for some and still for others, there may be assistance programs available like your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation program. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) offers a hearing aid program with consultation, devices and batteries at a discount. While Medicare generally doesn’t cover hearing aids, advantage plans in certain states offer some coverage for consultations or the initial purchase. The Veterans Administration offers consultation, hearing device purchase and follow-up appointments at no cost to eligible veterans. Contact these organizations to find out if you are eligible for any programs.

Hearing aids are a big investment in your quality of life and health. Even if you think you cannot afford hearing aids, it is helpful to advocate for yourself by asking lots of questions when you visit your hearing healthcare provider. They are used to working with people from all walks of life, and most are committed to finding solutions to fit every budget.

Healthy Hearing answers: Where can I buy cheap hearing aids?

 

Hearing aid insurance

While many individuals pay out of pocket for their hearing devices, it is 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. When provided, insurance coverage for hearing aids can come in many forms, from covering the initial consultation with a hearing healthcare practitioner to covering a certain percentage of total hearing aid cost.

Many states have passed legislation requiring 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 is a good habit to learn daily maintenance and cleaning to protect your investment. Use a dry cloth or tissue daily to remove any dust, earwax or moisture from your hearing aids. Cleaning and examining your hearing aids daily and doing a listening check will help you be aware of the status of your aids and you will learn when they need attention or repair.

Occasionally, your hearing aid might need to be repaired by the manufacturer. Many problems can be easy to troubleshoot at home or with the help of your hearing care provider. Signs you may need a repair include:

  • Static sounds or increased feedback
  • Intermittent sound or the sound “cuts in and out”
  • High levels of distortion
  • Holes or cracks in the shells of ITE hearing aid styles
  • Higher than normal battery drain
  • Broken or missing components on the body of the hearing aid

In some cases, if your hearing care provider cannot fix the problem, your hearing aid may need to be sent away to the manufacturer for repair. These types of repairs are often covered under a manufacturer’s warranty, but your hearing care provider can advise about warranty status and any out-of-pocket costs that may be incurred.

There is a lot to learn when it comes to hearing aid technology, but fortunately, your local hearing care provider will be instrumental in helping you understand your options so you can enjoy better hearing soon. Take some time to review the pages here and, when you're ready, check out our extensive directory of consumer-reviewed hearing centers near you. 

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