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Hearing aid guides are not rare, but the majority are not quite reader-friendly, either. Most are simply too long or complex, generating more perplexity instead of less.

My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and much more interested in locating the right technology at an acceptable price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 20-page manual.

If that describes you, then you’ll welcome this short guide to hearing aids. We’ll cover four small parts, and when we’re done, you’ll be prepared to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s most suitable for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can seem overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly endless factors to consider. But it’s really not as complex as it seems. As you progress through this guide, try to remember that all digital hearing aids work generally the same way, and consist of these four fundamental parts:

  1. The microphone picks up environmental sound and transmits it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal based on the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The modified sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound based on the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the patient has difficulty hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next transmitted to the speaker.
  4. The speaker renders the magnified sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two essential ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll address these in the next two sections.

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three principal styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then linked to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are easy to handle and maintain, normally have a longer battery life, and can handle severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the exterior part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but larger than the in-the-canal styles. This makes ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less detectable than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or completely within the ear canal, which makes them nearly or completely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some can be used for several months at a time.

When deciding on a style, think about the tradeoffs among user-friendliness, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and decide on the most appropriate style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve settled upon the right style, you can figure out which of the following features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to focus on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while lessening the interruption of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while cutting down on the static brought on by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to enhance hearing based on your environment, for instance in a tranquil room at home versus in a hectic restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as televisions, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones turns your hearing aids into top-quality wireless headphones. The hearing aid settings can be controlled from the phone (or smart watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed straight from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning kits, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you decide which you may need or want.

Selecting the Right Hearing Aids

Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with appropriate experience can assess your hearing properly, which is crucial for when it comes time to program, fit, and fine-tune your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your pick of hearing aids will hinge on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two aspects with your hearing specialist and your options will come to be manageable.
  3. Set a budget. Some would say that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing specialist can uncover the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
  4. Test out your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Talk with your hearing specialist to establish realistic expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to show results. Your patience will be rewarded when you realize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What seems to be a complicated process is in truth easily workable, once you know how to prioritize your needs and constrict your choices. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can uncover the ideal technology at the right price—so you can start experiencing all of the benefits of better hearing.