What is a Hearing Aid?
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “a hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear that makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities.” Its primary function is to amplify the vibrations that enter the ear (NIDCD, April 2007).
Facts on Hearing Aids:
- The hearing aid fitting process typically consists of six stages: assessment, treatment planning, selection, verification, orientation, and validation. The widespread use of computers has made the process of fitting hearing aids more accurate and efficient.
- Over 60% of individuals with hearing loss are fit with two hearing aids (binaural). The benefits of wearing two hearing aids are enhanced ability to (a) hear better in the presence of background noise, (b) determine where sound is coming from, and (c) hear soft sounds at lower levels.
- One state-commissioned study published in 2000 has put the average cost for requiring hearing aid coverage by all insurers, non-profit health plans and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) every 3 years at $16. This is based on a $1,400 contribution per hearing aid (beneficiaries wanting more expensive hearing aids would pay the difference), excluding the cost of batteries and maintenance that is estimated at about $300 per year.1
- Hearing aids differ in design, type of circuitry, size, and amount of amplification, but they do have similar components that include a microphone, amplifier circuitry (to make the sound louder), a receiver (to deliver the amplified sound into the ear); and batteries to power the electronic parts.
- Approximately 30% of hearing aids in use today are equipped with a telecoil. This is an optional feature that couples directly with hearing aid compatible telephones and assistive listening devices, improving intelligibility in noisy situations, poor acoustical environments, and at long distances from the speaker.
- There are over 1,000 types and models of hearing aids to satisfy an individual’s hearing loss needs.
Models of hearing aids include:
- Completely-in-the canal (CIC) – the smallest model for mild to moderate hearing loss.
- In-the-canal (ITC) – not as small as CIC, but slightly better power.
- In-the-ear (ITE) – larger than ITC, enough power to benefit a wide range of hearing losses and enough room for some special circuitry.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) – offers special programming, special coupling ability to other devices, special circuitry, and power.
- Body – housed in a special case that can be carried in a pocket providing the most power for the most severe hearing losses.
Hearing aids vary in terms of the technology that is enclosed in the casing (described above). Types of hearing aids include: conventional analog hearing aids, analog programmable hearing aids, and digital processing hearing aids. Lower end technology allows limited flexibility in programming the hearing aid for the individual’s hearing loss characteristics and environmental characteristics. Mid level technology allows greater flexibility in meeting individual needs and can produce a hearing aid that is fully automatic. This level of technology may include noise reduction which may make listeners more comfortable in noisy backgrounds. The highest level of technology can be completely automatic or user controlled. This level of technology provides the greatest flexibility and many custom features are available to meet the individual listener’s needs.
If you are interested in reading more about your rights as a consumer when purchasing and using a hearing aid and the appropriate technology that goes with it, visit the National HLAA page and the NIDCD page.
List of Hearing Aid Manufacturers:
23Maryland Health Care Commission, Mercer study (2000).