If you're learning about hearing aids in order to purchase the most perfect pair for you, there's a lot to know. Thankfully, there's plenty of information out there, and your audiologist and friends who wear hearing aids can help with advice and suggestions.
Here are the various styles and features to ponder:
Hearing aid styles
Behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE)
BTE devices hook over the top of the ear and rest comfortably in a plastic case behind the ear, where most of the internal parts are contained. They connect with a piece of clear tubing to a custom-fitted earmold that fits into the ear canal. BTE devices are sturdy and easy to clean and handle. They are made to fit people of all ages, and offer better amplification than others. However, they are typically the largest and most visible hearing aids, which many people don't like. BTE hearing aids are the best for kids because they can fit with an earmold, which will need to be replaced as a child grows.
There are also new "mini" BTE aids, which are sometimes called "on-the-ear" devices. They are smaller than traditional BTE aids, and use either a standard earmold or a new open-fit design, which doesn't give ears that plugged up feeling. People like these because they improve comfort, reduce feedback and address people's cosmetic concerns.
In-the-ear aids (ITE)
An ITE hearing aid has only one component - a shell that fits in the outer part of the ear. There are two types of this hearing technology: full-shell and half-shell. The full-shell devices fill the bowl-shaped part of the outer ear, but they and their batteries are easier to handle than in smaller devices. Full-shell ITEs are more visible to others and might pick up wind noise, but they are helpful for people with mild to severe hearing loss.
In contrast, half-shell aids are custom molded for each person's ears and they fill only half of the outer ear's bowl-shaped portion. They are suitable for mild to moderately severe hearing loss and are bigger - and thus easier to handle - than in-the-canal hearing aids.
In-the-canal (ITC) and completely-in-the canal (CIC) hearing aids
ITC or CIC hearing devices are the smallest possible hearing loss solutions. They are entirely contained in small cases that fit partially or completely inside the ear canal. Many people like these because they can be used easily with the telephone. However, CIC and ITC devices are difficult to handle and adjust due to their small size. Additionally, they may not fit in smaller ears, and they are only recommended for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
This simple feature is a beeping alert that lets you know when your batteries are almost out of power and is a standard hearing aid feature.
Power on delay is a pretty standard feature in hearing aids today. It quells feedback as you insert the hearing aid by taking a few seconds to power up.
Background noise reduction
Most hearing aids have some level of background noise reduction, though quality varies and can be tuned depending on the needs of the individual.
Automatic volume control
All hearing aids have some level of compression, or automatic volume control, to give greater amplification to low sound levels and less to higher sound levels so they aren't too loud.
The telecoil switch - or T-coil - is also available in most new devices these days. It helps people hear better on the telephone and also works in auditoriums, churches, theaters and other venues that have FM or induction loop systems installed.
Most hearing aids also have some level of feedback reduction, while some have very specialized technology to reduce this effect. Feedback occurs when the hearing aid is not properly fitted or earwax is blocking the microphone, and it's an annoying buzz , whistle or other sound that disrupts hearing.
Most hearing aids today have at least one directional microphone, though you can find devices with multiple directional microphones. These make it easier to hear in noisy environments because they amplify sound coming from one direction at a higher level than sounds coming from other directions. For example, a forward-facing directional microphone is helpful for face-to-face communication in a restaurant that has a lot of background noise.
If your hearing loss is accompanied by tinnitus, consider adding a tinnitus noise generator or suppression feature. This usually works by producing a form of white noise that drowns out or balances the tinnitus sounds.
Wind noise reduction
People who spend a lot of time outside might want to invest in a hearing aid that has wind noise reduction. This technology can automatically recognize and suppress the sound of wind so if you're a runner, golfer or gardener, you can hear everything around you.
This is a newer capability, but there are hearing aids on the market that allow you to "zoom in" on sound coming from one direction. This is helpful when you can't face the speaker. Additionally, if you're trying to hear a person in a crowd, there's a type of zoom control that will allow you to focus in on one voice.
This allows hearing aids to connect wirelessly to many devices, including the TV, phones, music devices and many others.
If your hearing aids are equipped with Bluetooth capabilities, they will be able to wirelessly communicate with each other. This allows hearing on one side to actually occur, or be experienced in, both ears. After all, our brain does this through binaural processing, and this feature can make hearing with a device more natural feeling.
Hearing aids equipped with automatic programs have sophisticated built-in technology that enables the devices to determine the listening situation you are in and to make adjustments to help you hear better no matter where you are.
Though it's not a tech capability, you can find hearing aids that are water-resistant - though not waterproof - to keep your devices protected if you have an active lifestyle.