It’s quite common for people to require hearing aids in their lifetime. Whether you have hearing loss due to a genetic disease or as the result of environmental factors, hearing aids can help in a variety of situations — from conductive hearing loss to tinnitus.

Here, we’ll take a closer look at the history of hearing aids, how modern digital ones actually work, and how to pick the right ones for you.

Modern digital hearing aids: common features

Modern digital hearing aids have a number of features that can help the user navigate their day-to-day lives with more ease. These range from selectively blocking out certain sounds such as background noises to offering the ability to stream music and phone calls directly to the hearing aids. More specifically, modern hearing aids often have the following features:

Directional microphones

Automatic directionality provides you with the benefit of picking up speech over background noise. For those who have a mobile phone app connected to their hearing aids, they are able to select the type of directionality (where the sound they want amplifying is coming from) they require given the particular environmental circumstances. This includes narrow beam directionality which allows you to just focus on the person in front of you. Therefore, hearing aids with directional microphones can selectively tune-in and tune-out certain noises in the environment. Some directional microphones tune-out the noises coming from behind you, while others tune-out noises selectively from moving sources, such as cars or passing bikes.

Automatic directional microphones

Automatic directional microphones select their mode of operation according to the listening environment. In a quiet situation they’ll operate in directional mode and adaptive directional mode, if available.

Adaptive directional microphones

This microphone can detect the location of the strongest noise source and adapt its pick-up to minimise it. If the noise source moves, like a motorbike on the road, then the microphone system adapts to keep that noise reduced.

Noise reduction

This reduces the amplification of non-speech sounds, making it more comfortable in noisy conditions by automatically sensing and then reducing the background noise. For example, in traffic noise in the street, busy pubs or restaurants. 

So you can better concentrate, or enjoy conversations in busy places without the distraction of background noise.

Wind noise reduction

Wind noise reduction is an electronic system that reduces the bothersome sound of wind whistling over the microphones. The hearing aid detects windy conditions and adopts the hearing aid automatically for maximum comfort – particularly useful for outdoor activities, like golf or walking.

Transient noise reduction

This feature identifies and reduces annoying sounds like rustling paper, breaking glasses and clanging dishes without affecting speech clarity. It’s also known as ‘sound-smoothing’ and ‘anti-shock’.

Automatic programmes

Hearing aids will often use automatic programmes to identify the listening environment and choose the proper instrument settings accordingly. This allows you to get the best settings for any hearing situation without pushing a button.

Binaural synchronisation

Also called e2e or ear-to-ear wireless. In order to enable you to hear better in a range of different situations, there is often a wireless communication system between the hearing aids that synchronises the settings between them to optimise the hearing condition for you.

This means that listening programmes, volume control setting, noise management and directional microphones are always properly balanced in both hearing aids so you’re able to localise sound better.

Data logging and frequency bands

Modern hearing aids can also record the listening programmes and volumes used under different listening environments, in addition to marking the range and frequency of the sounds you most often hear under different settings. This allows hearing aid professionals to assess your wearing times and the environments you’re in the most and may help in reprogramming your hearing aids to better suit your lifestyle.

The more frequency bands that your hearing aid has, the finer the tuning can be to match the range of sounds you need to help with your hearing. So you end up with crisper, clearer hearing.

Speech enhancement

Traditionally, hearing aids have struggled to pick out voices from background noise. Modern hearing aids, however, pick up the sound patterns (or frequencies) of speech against those background noises, minimising those sounds from the speech, and ultimately helping the user to hear conversations more clearly.

Hearing aid feedback cancellation

Feedback is when your hearing aids makes a whistling noise. This can be caused by poor fitting, excessive or impacted earwax, or if you place anything over your ear (like a hand or hat). Feedback cancellation takes the feedback frequencies, reverses the phase of the feedback signal and combines this with the original, which cancels any annoying feedback sounds you may experience.

Adaptive feedback cancellation

Similar to the ‘feedback cancellation’ feature but is able to automatically adapt its speed of operation to improve performance according to different environments – like when you use the phone, listen to music, or hear alarm beeps.

 Remote control and management

Most modern hearing aids are now controllable via mobile phone or tablet apps. These allow you to turn the volume of the aids up or down and select various programmes to suit the environment you are in.

General hearing aid features

What to do next

The first step to finding the right hearing aid for you is to book a free hearing test. Our hearing professionals will be able to help you understand your hearing health, and take you through a range of options to suit your lifestyle. For more information, click to book an appointment, or visit our hearing resource to learn more about the different hearing options available.