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Hearing aids and mobile phones have not always gotten along as well as they do now. The intricate electronics in both devices often caused static, dropped words or squealing interference noises. Technology improvements along with new government regulations have mostly eliminated this issue. Today cell phone – hearing aid compatibility isn’t the challenge it used to be. The labeling requirements mandated by the new government regulations make it easy to find a mobile phone that is compatible with your hearing aid.

The first thing you need to understand is that hearing aids operate in two different modes – microphone or “M” mode, and telecoil or “T” mode. In M mode, the hearing aid uses the internal microphone to detect sounds and amplify them. In T mode, the hearing aid instead uses an inductive process to pick up electromagnetic signals inside the phone directly, without the need for a microphone. The T mode is important when shopping for a phone, because at least 60% of hearing aids sold in the U.S. have one.

Under the new regulations, these two modes of operation have ratings that range from 1 (the lowest sensitivity) to 4 (the highest sensitivity). To be sold in the United States as hearing aid compatible (HAC), a mobile phone or cordless handset must have a rating of at least M3 or T3.

Hearing aids and cochlear implants have a similar M and T rating system to certify how sensitive they are in each mode, and how resistant they are to radio frequency interference. If you know the M and T ratings for your hearing aid, to determine its compatibility with any mobile phone, just add the two sets of ratings together. A combined rating of 6 or more is considered excellent, a hearing aid/phone combination that would provide highly usable, interference-free performance. A combined rating of 5 is thought of as normal, and suitable for most people. A sum of 4 is considered acceptable, but if you are a heavy cell phone user, you may be disappointed or frustrated with this choice.

This combined rating system makes it easy to shop for a mobile phone online, because it easily allows you to determine how compatible it will be with your hearing aid. If you are able to shop in a store that allows you to “try before you buy” and actually use the phone you want while wearing your hearing aid, that is of course a better idea.

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