Many people use hearing aids in their daily life, and most everyone has heard of them – but how do they work? The primary explanation is that hearing aids are tiny electronic devices that collect, amplify and send sound directly to the ear. Although there are several different types of hearing aids, they all have the same essential parts. A microphone in the hearing aid collects the sound, an amplifier increases it, a speaker directs it into the user’s ear, and a battery powers this process. Many characteristics, such as the shape, size, and specific technology of the amplifier, make a broad selection of hearing aids that are specific to the user’s hearing loss and preference.
Analog vs Digital
One type of technology used to amplify sound in a hearing aid is analog. These types of hearing aids are a more traditional, less expensive type that is becoming less popular as hearing aid technology advances. Analog hearing aids are characterized by their inability to distinguish between different kinds of sound, making them less precise and functional. Some of these hearing aids can be digitally programmed by an audiologist, who can create individual settings for different environments. These settings require the user to activate them to work and only have room for a few options but are useful at separating louder environments from quieter ones.
Digital hearing aids are more sophisticated than analog hearing aids and are far more common because of their higher level of functionality. While digital and analog hearing aids have the same essential features and function, the microchip inside digital hearing aids is able to analyze and identify loudness, pitch, and type of noise that it receives from the microphone. The chip then distinguishes the environmental noise from speech, allowing for the amplifier to adjust the levels of noise sent to the speaker. This automatic adjustment of sound decreases overall background noise and helps the user understand speech at a higher level.
Another benefit that digital hearing aids have over analog is the variety of hearing loss patterns that they can adjust to. Sometimes the basic features of a hearing aid aren’t optimal for some cases of hearing loss, so there are many optional features that digital hearing aids can adopt in order to fit the user’s needs better.
Telecoil, or t-coil, are one of these additional features. These tiny coils give the user the ability to override the hearing aid’s traditional microphone to hear closer, louder sounds more clearly. Telecoil is excellent for telephone conversations or theaters. Directional microphones are another feature that allows the user to specify which direction they want the hearing aid to prioritize. Rechargeability gives the user the option to recharge batteries at night rather than having to buy and replace their old ones frequently. Feedback control is explicitly used for reducing the whistling noise commonly found in hearing aids, and wireless connectivity allows the user’s hearing aid to communicate with a Bluetooth device. Many users like this feature because it will enable them to take phone calls and stream audio straight to their hearing aids.
The vast range of options for hearing aid types (see what to know about hearing aids) and their additional features allow for a more personal and functional product, making treatment for hearing loss more convenient and painless for the user. With the help of an audiologist (find your nearest BC Hearing Clinic), anyone can find a hearing aid that is the perfect fit for them.