Have you ever had problems hearing in a crowded room or restaurant but can hear without any problem at home? Do you have particular difficulty hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?
If yes, you might have hearing loss, and hearing aids may be able to help.
But how exactly do hearing aids work? Are they basic amplifiers, or something more complex?
This week we’ll be taking a look at how hearing aids work and how they are a great deal more sophisticated than many people realize. But first, let’s start with how normal hearing works.
How Normal Hearing Works
The hearing process starts out with sound. Sound is simply a kind of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a lake. Things generate sound in the environment when they produce vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are eventually captured and transferred to the ear canal by the outer ear.
Just after moving through the ear canal, the sound vibrations hit the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates, creating and amplifying the original signal which is then transferred by the middle ear bones to the snail-shaped organ of the middle ear referred to as the cochlea.
The cochlea is full of fluid and very small nerve cells called cilia. The vibrations sent from the middle ear bones shake the fluid and stimulate the cilia. The cilia then transmit electrical signals to the brain and the brain interprets the signals as sound.
With most instances of noise-induced hearing loss, there is injury to the cilia. As a consequence, the arriving signal to the brain is faded and sounds appear softer or muffled. But not all sound frequencies are uniformly impaired. Usually, the higher-pitched sounds, such as speech, are impacted to a greater extent.
In a loud setting, like a restaurant, your capacity to hear speech is diminished because your brain is obtaining a compromised signal for high-frequency sounds. At the same time, background noise, which is low-frequency, is getting through normally, drowning out the speech.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
You can see that the solution is not merely amplifying all sound. If you were to do that, you’d just continue to drown out speech as the background noise becomes louder in proportion to the speech sounds.
The solution is selective amplification of only the sound frequencies you have difficulty hearing. And that is only feasible by having your hearing professionally evaluated and your hearing aids professionally programmed to amplify these specific frequencies.
How Hearing Aids Selectively Amplify Sound
Modern hearing aids contain five interior parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just simple amplifiers—they’re sophisticated electronic devices that modify the properties of sound.
This occurs by way of the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is one-of-a-kind, like a fingerprint, and therefore the frequencies you need amplified will vary. The incredible part is, those frequencies can be established precisely with a professional hearing test, known as an audiogram.
Once your hearing professional has these figures, your hearing aid can be programmed to enhance the frequencies you have the most trouble with, enhancing speech recognition in the process.
Here’s how it works: the hearing aid receives sound in the environment with the microphone and transfers the sound to the computer chip. The computer chip then converts the sound into digital information so that it can differentiate between various frequencies.
Then, dependent on the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are amplified, the low-frequency background sounds are subdued, and the enhanced sound is distributed to your ear via the speaker.
So will your hearing return perfectly to normal?
While your hearing will not entirely go back to normal, that shouldn’t prevent you from accomplishing substantial gains in your hearing. For most individuals, the amplification provided is all they need to understand speech and engage in effective and effortless communication.
Think about it this way. If your eye doctor told you they could enhance your vision from 20/80 to 20/25, would you forgo prescription glasses because you couldn’t get to 20/20? Of course not; you’d be able to function perfectly with 20/25 vision and the improvement from 20/80 would be enormous.
Are you ready to see the gains you can achieve with contemporary hearing aids? Call us today!