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Hearing aid guides are not rare, but most are not exactly reader-friendly, either. Many are generally too lengthy or complicated, adding more perplexity instead of less.

My guess is that you’re less interested in the physiology of hearing or in the particulars of acoustical engineering and more interested in finding the most appropriate technology at an affordable price. Your goal is to hear better, not to read a 15-page manual.

If that represents you, then you’ll appreciate this simple guide to hearing aids. We’ll review four brief parts, and when we’re finished, you’ll be set to work with your hearing care professional to find the technology that’s best for you. Let’s get started.

How All Hearing Aids Work

Deciding on a hearing aid can feel overwhelming—there are several brands and seemingly limitless factors to consider. But it’s really not as complicated as it appears. As you move through this guide, keep in mind that all digital hearing aids function generally the same way, and consist of these four basic parts:

  1. The microphone registers external sound and transfers it to the digital processor.
  2. The digital processor modifies the sound signal according to the settings programmed by the hearing specialist. The customized sound signal is then delivered to the amplifier.
  3. The amplifier increases the volume of the sound according to the programmed settings, amplifying only the frequencies the person has trouble hearing (while suppressing background noise). This signal is next delivered to the speaker.
  4. The speaker delivers the enhanced sound to the ear, producing louder, clearer sound.

Additionally, all hearing aids include a battery, volume and setting buttons, and remote controls.

Hearing aids really only differ in two crucial ways: 1) style, and 2) advanced features. We’ll cover these in the next two sections.

Hearing Aid Styles

You have your choice of three main styles:

1. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids hook over the top of the ear and sit behind the ear. The case is then linked to an earmold in the ear canal by a piece of clear tubing. BTE hearing aids are simple to handle and maintain, generally have a longer battery life, and can handle severe hearing loss.

2. In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids occupy the external part of the ear with a custom-molded shell. ITE hearing aids are smaller than the behind-the-ear hearing aids but bigger than the in-the-canal styles. This renders ITE hearing aids easier to handle than the smaller styles but less visible than the BTE style.

3. In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids and completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids fit partially or entirely inside of the ear canal, making them almost or entirely invisible. ITC and CIC hearing aids are custom molded to the shapes of the ear, and some types can be used for months at a time.

When deciding on a style, take into account the tradeoffs among simplicity of use, battery life, and concealment. Your hearing care expert will help you prioritize your preferences and select the most suitable style.

Hearing Aid Advanced Features and Accessories

Once you’ve settled upon the right style, you can figure out which of the following features you need—and which you don’t.

  • Directional microphones allow you to concentrate on the sounds and conversations directly in front of you while minimizing the diversion of loud background noise.
  • Telecoils, or T-coils, allow you to talk on the phone while reducing the static caused by background noise.
  • Environmental noise control allows you to optimize hearing based on your environment, for instance in a quiet room at home as opposed to in a lively restaurant.
  • Direct input to sound sources such as TVs, radios, computers, and music players allow for clear sound without background noise.
  • Wireless connection to mobile phones converts your hearing aids into top-quality wireless headsets. The hearing aid settings can be manipulated from the phone (or digital watch), and sound can be wirelessly streamed directly from the phone to the hearing aids.

Optional accessories include cleaning systems, storage cases, ultraviolet sanitizers, battery-changers, and more. Your hearing care professional can help you decide on which you may need or want.

Selecting the Right Hearing Aids

Before making an investment in hearing aids, take these four steps:

  1. Find a trustworthy, local hearing care professional. Only professionals with ample experience can evaluate your hearing accurately, which is essential for when it comes time to program, fit, and calibrate your hearing aids.
  2. Focus on hearing aid styles and advanced features. Your choice of hearing aids will depend on your preference of style and functionality. Explore these two facets with your hearing consultant and your options will become manageable.
  3. Set a budget. Some would assert that your hearing is priceless, but that doesn’t mean you have a limitless budget. With all of the hearing aid options available to you, you and your hearing specialist can uncover the right hearing aid at a reasonable price.
  4. Test drive your new hearing aids. inquire about trial periods and test out your new hearing aids. Work with your hearing specialist to establish realistic expectations and give your hearing aids a chance to work. Your perseverance will be rewarded when you recognize the difference better hearing will make in your life.

And that’s it. What may seem like a complex process is in fact easily workable, once you understand how to prioritize your needs and limit your choices. With the help of your local hearing care professional, you can obtain the most appropriate technology at the right price—so you can start enjoying all of the advantages of better hearing.

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