Technology has made so many grand advances in so many industries, and hearing aids are no exception. The older, more noticeable ear devices are near obsolete and have been replaced with small, more efficient listening devices. Analog aids have been around for quite some time, and they have a microphone that changes the sound of energy, as well as an amplifier to amplify the strength of the power, plus a speaker that changes the energy to sound. However, these aids are being replaced.
Adding more complexity and a good deal of functionality, are digital hearing aids, where sounds are converted into digital signals. Those signals are processed using digital signal processing (DSP). Body, eyeglass, behind the ear and in the ear, are four types of available aids.
Today, primarily for cosmetic reasons, behind-the-ear, and in-the-ear, have become the most popular. In-the-ear, styles can be broken down further into those fitting deep in-the-ear-canal, or ones that can fill some or all of the concha, which is the external portion of our ear.
In-the-ear features include secure fit with easier insert and removal than behind-the-ear, smaller styles, reduced wind noise, and having all of the parts in one small shell. Behind-the-ear styles are ideal for a minor child, or for more severe hearing loss.
Some of the more advanced features of hearing aids are:
- The ability to use channels to put sounds into varying frequencies. Your audiologist can also adjust the volume of each as well as the amplification. You also have manual volume controls, some even with a remote control. Some remote controls permit changing volume and channels without touching the aid. Some remote controls can pull double duty and act as a Bluetooth connection to your mobile phone.
- Directional microphones come in handy if you are in a loud environment. One mic can be pointed to the front and one to the back. Both mics analyze the sounds, and the one in the back lowers its level of sensitivity automatically, to decrease the back noise. These mics don’t eliminate noise; they can help reduce it for you.
- Some aids can internally generate sounds that are not in your environment. While that feature sounds counterintuitive, the varied sounds can help decrease your perceived volume of tinnitus (head or ear noises).
- Different aids offer various numbers of channels that can be programmed to match your exact needs. The environmental noise can also be adjusted more accurately. Channel number options of more than 15 may lead to an insignificant improvement for you because they fail to increase their effectiveness at some point. In some of the higher-grade units, the processor may be robust enough to automatically decrease the back mic if the area gets too noisy and then increase the sensitivity when the noise lessens so you don’t miss out on anything.
- Another benefit here is that each channel’s amplification can be altered to adjust the ones that do not help you with the overall understanding of speech. That also means that the front mic can be adjusted to help you the most with sounds coming from that direction, like normal conversations.
- That whistling noise you may have heard people complain about is called acoustic feedback, and it is much less common with new digital aids because they offer a feedback controller. The probability and level of feedback can change with a properly fitted aid as well as with your level of hearing loss.
- Hearing aids now come with more than one program that allows you push-button or remote control access. These programs can more easily allow you to adjust for television, radio or telephone listening. Premium aids can analyze sounds and automatically adapt to your current environment. That means that when you leave a noisy area and go to your car, for example, the aid will auto adjust for both environments.
- Some aids even offer data logging, which tracks how often you wear the aid and how much the volume is adjusted and in some cases, even the nature of your sound environments. These all help the audiologist identify and alter your aid settings.
- Some hearing aids even perform self-learning! They remember your preferences and all you have to do is push a button. So, if you want to wake up to “X” volume and hit the office at 9 am to “Y” volume, you can train your aid to take care of that for you!
- How about a telephone adapter that knows if you’re on a cell phone or landline and adjusts accordingly? Yep, it’s available!
- Frequency shifting lets high pitch sounds shift down to lower frequencies where the hearing is typically better.
Technology just keeps making our lives better and better! With so many new available options on today’s hearing aids, you will want to discuss each option with us to ensure that the best features to meet your specific needs are included.