There are so many hearing aids on the market it can be overwhelming trying to figure which one will fit your individual needs. We have broken down some major things to consider in helping you make the right choice when it comes to your hearing assistance needs. So, if you are wondering how to choose the best hearing aid for your needs, read on to learn about the top 5 things to consider.
A Little Info About the History of Hearing Aids
Assistive hearing devices have been in around in some form since the 17th century. Back then the devices were bulky and awkward. The first assistive hearing devices were called ear trumpets, followed closely by hearing fans and speaking tubes. They were all designed to direct sound into the ear and limit other outside sounds.
It wasn’t until 1898 that the first electronic hearing aid was developed and even with improvements over time it’s only been over the last few decades that hearing aids have become so adaptive to specific user needs and almost invisible.
The Basics of How a Hearing Aid Works?
Simply put, hearing aids amplify sounds. Most hearing aids are digital and use batteries for power. They utilize small microphones to pick up sounds from your environment and small chip amplifies the sound and converts it, sending it back through speakers in sound that is detectable to you with your specific hearing loss. Pretty amazing, right!?!
Top 5 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Hearing Aid
- Needs – What are my specific hearing loss issues/hearing needs?
- Style – Do I care how visible the device is?
- Features – Am I looking for simple hearing amplification or do I want something more complex?
- Power Source – Will batteries, rechargeable batteries or power cell work best for me?
- Clarity – how crisp of a sound am I looking for?
1. What are my specific needs?
What sounds are you having difficulty hearing? This question is referring to your life and what it is that you like to do and also, how your hearing loss is impacting your day to day life.
Do you entertain at home in small groups and have trouble hearing soft sounds? Do you want to hear the TV better so you can follow your favorite shows and movies. Or do you attend live music events with louder sounds and more outside noise that needs filtering? Do you attend lectures of church services? Do you work in a quiet environment or a noisy office?
These situations all have different listening challenges. Drilling down your specific needs will help you in finding the right hearing aid for you.
2. What style of hearing aid will suit you best?
The answer to this is somewhat about your preference. Are you okay with a more visible hearing aid or do you want the device to be almost unnoticeable? Some people have a strong preference about this and others just want to be able to hear and don’t care about the appearance. Here are the different styles of hearing aids so you can get an idea of what might work for you.
Completely in the Canal (CIC) devices
CIC devices mold to fit completely inside of the ear canal. They are good for mild to moderate hearing loss.
These are the least visible yet they are also more difficult to manipulate. So if you have vision and or dexterity issues some larger yet more visible devices might work better for you and save you some frustration. Other considerations with the CIC devices:
- less wind noise or whistling
- smaller batteries (shorter battery life and difficult to handle)
- no extra features like volume control or microphone directionality
- potential for becoming clogged with ear wax is high
In the Canal (ITC) devices
ITC devices are molded to fit partially in the ear canal. This style id suited for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Other considerations with ITC devices:
- Less visible than some styles
- Has some features not available with the CIC devices
- May be difficult to manipulate and adjust due to small size
- potential for becoming clogged with ear wax
In the Ear (ITE) devices
ITE devices come in two styles – one which fills most of the bowl of the outer ear (this is called full shell) and one that partially fills the bowl only covering the lower part (this is called half shell). Full and half shell devices are useful for people with mild to severe hearing loss. Other considerations with ITE devices:
- Includes additional features such as volume control
- Slightly larger therefore easier to handle
- Larger batteries with longer battery life
- Still prone to ear wax clogging
- May have a little more wind noise than
- More visible
Behind the Ear (BTE) devices
BTE hearing aids rest behind the ear with an ear mold that fits inside the ear canal and a tube that hooks up over the top of the ear. This style of hearing aid is helpful for all types of hearing loss and also for all ages. Other considerations with BTE devices:
- typically larger than other styles of hearing aid
- greater amplification ability
- May have more wind noise than some other styles
Receiver in canal (RIC) devices
RIC style hearing aids are just like a BTE device using a speaker in the canal or ear. The difference is a tiny wire connecting the two peices from behind the ear and in the ear or canal as opposed to the tubing that connects the pieces in a BTE device. Other considerations with a RIC device:
- smaller behind the ear part
- prone to getting clogged with ear wax in the speaker portion
An open fit hearing aid is a modified behind the ear style. It uses tubing to keep the ear canal open. The open canal allows for enhanced hearing for low frequency sounds while high frequency sounds are still amplified by the hearing aid itself.
Good for mild to moderate hearing loss. Other considerations with an open fit device:
- Less visible than some styles
- doesn’t plug into the ear canal which allow some sound to travel through, including your own voice
- has very small parts which makes handling and adjusting tricky
3. What features are you looking for in a hearing aid?
The different styles of hearing aids outlined above offer many features which may or may not be important for you. Some of the most common features are:
- Noise reduction – all hearing aids offer noise reduction capabilities, some are better than others
- Directional Microphones – The microphones are facing the front of you, so sounds coming from in front of you will be detected and sounds coming from the sides and behind you will be reduced. This helps reduce background noise and in busy environments can help you focus on the person speaking right in front of you.
- Telecoils – The telecoil makes it possible for your hearing aid to only pick up sound coming from your telephone (phone must be telecoil compatible) and removes background noise. If you are out watching a play, movie or lecture telecoils will also pick up the sounds from the public induction loop system so you can hear the speaker, sermon or movie better.
- Wireless Connectivity – This is one of my favorite more recent hearing aid advancements – some hearing aids can interface with Bluetooth compatible devices such as cell phones and televisions.
- Direct Audio Input – If you don’t have wireless capability, some hearing aids allow you to wire directly into a television or computer with a cord.
- Remote controls – certain hearing aids allow you to adjust them without even touching the hearing aid, you just need the remote control.
- Variable Programming – You may use your hearing aid in a variety of environments and with variable programming you can store and save the different setting for each of those environments.
- Environmental Noise Control – You can block the wind or whistle noise or block out background sounds with certain hearing aids.
- Synchronizing – for people with two hearing aids it is ideal to be able to synchronize changes. If you adjust something on one hearing aid it will be adjusted on both.
4. What Power Source is Best Suited to Your Needs and Use?
There are three types of power sources for your hearing aids – battery, rechargeable and power cell.
The traditional battery style is fine for many people. A hearing aid battery life is anywhere from 4 days to a few weeks depending on type of hearing aid you have, the size of battery and how good you are about turning off your hearing aid when not in use. Opening the battery door when not in use (so the contacts are not touching the battery) will also lengthen battery life.
Rechargeable batteries are good for people who can’t manipulate the small batteries. The recharging unit is a docking station that you plug the hearing aid into (no need to remove small batteries or to reinsert them).
Power cells are the newest power source for hearing aids. Using Energy Cell Technology, a small fuel cell is used to recharge the hearing aid in under a minute and it will keep the charge for up to 24 hours. This is great news for people who use their hearing aid almost non-stop and for people who may forget to charge the hearing aid or get replacement batteries.
5. How Clearly Do You Want to Hear?
If you are looking to amplify volume you can easily find an inexpensive hearing device to help you out. As you get into more complex situations you have to think about how clearly you want to be able to hear different sounds.
Do you want to hear lower sounds or high-frequency sounds. How important is it for you to filter out background noises? The type of hearing loss you are experiencing and how it impacts your life is important to the type hearing requirements you have.
Not Ready for a Hearing Aid?
Maybe you aren’t quite ready to wear a hearing aid all of the time. You can still benefit from some great products to help you hear in certain instances. One of the more common and first areas people look to enhance their hearing is when watching TV. Check out these great options for enhancing your TV and movie watching. No more asking “What did he just say?”
The range of styles, features and prices is drastic in the hearing aid market. Take a moment to review the what you need and what you want in an assistive hearing device. You can spend anywhere from $30 for basic sound amplification devices to several thousand dollars for a high end hearing aid with all the features listed above.
Having a hearing test by a trusted provider is always a recommended first step in your hearing aid search. Let your provider know that you have done your research and share the insights you learned above so you can find the perfect hearing aid fit for you.