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Hearing Aids 101

Aug 18, 2007
What is a hearing aid? Simply put, it is any device used to improve the hearing of partially deaf people. Some smaller aids are compact enough to fit in the ear or be hidden in the frame of eyeglasses. Hearing aids assist in making soft sounds louder. Before choosing and buying a hearing aid it is important to understand that a hearing aid does not restore your hearing. Hearing aids help make soft sounds louder.

In the U.S., more than 1,000 different models of hearing aids are available. All of them include a microphone (to receive sound), amplifier (to increase sound strength), a receiver or speaker (to send sound to the ear), and are powered by a battery. Hearing aids are divided into several different types: (1) digital, (2) in-the-ear, (3) in-the-canal, (4) behind-the-ear and (5) on-the-body. They are either "monaural" (a single hearing aid), or "binaural" (for both ears); more than 65% of all hearing aid users have binaural aids.

There are two primary types of hearing loss. The first is commonly called conductive hearing loss. This type involves the outer or middle ear sounds may seem dull and the loudness of certain sounds may be affected. This form of hearing loss affects a person's ability to hear lower frequencies, especially vowel sounds. The possible causes of conductive hearing loss include wax obstructing the ear canal; infection in the middle ear; or a puncture of the eardrum. The treatment for this type of hearing loss is typically medical or surgical intervention.

The second and most common type of hearing loss is referred to as "nerve deafness" or sensorineural hearing loss. With this type of loss there generally is damage to the hair cells or nerve fibers in the inner ear which will distort and reduce the perceived loudness of sound. This is usually accompanied with a difficulty in understanding speech, especially in noisy situations. A person with this type of hearing loss may also have trouble telling the difference between consonant sounds (higher frequencies).

Some of the causes of sensorineural hearing loss include birth defects, head injuries, infection, some medications, illnesses accompanied by a high fever, exposure to loud noises, or long-term exposure to noise. As a general rule, this form of hearing loss cannot be treated medically or surgically. The best method of treatment for individuals with nerve deafness is the use of a hearing aid.

The fist step in getting a hearing device is to have a hearing evaluation and a medical exam. After conducting a hearing evaluation, an qualified hearing specialist, (audiologist) will be able to decide whether a hearing aid will help, and which one will do the most good. This is especially important because aids can be very expensive (between $500 and $4,000), and are often not covered by health insurance.

There are no "one size fits all" type of hearing aids. Every hearing loss is individual and different. The type and style of hearing aid that will be best for you depends on the nature and level of your hearing loss. Your audiologist or hearing aid dispenser will help you decide on the best hearing aid for you, based on your level of hearing loss, budget and lifestyle.
About the Author
For more information about hearing aids and the hearing industry visit our comprehensive website at "The Ultimate Heaing Aid Guide"
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