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 at how to pick the right ones for you.
A brief history of hearing aids
The earliest form of hearing aids were ear trumpets. Usually made of metal and wood, these tubular or funnel-shaped devices were used to direct sounds directly into the ears.
Later, with the invention of the telephone and microphone in the 1870s and 1880s, electronic hearing aids arrived and quickly gained popularity. These required a sound receiver, which was often the size of a large cigar box, with a speaker that fitted in the ear.
Since then, hearing aids have become smaller and more portable, and with the invention of microprocessors and microcomputers brought digital hearing aids — with the first behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids arriving in the late 80s.
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.
The noise-reduction feature, which is also known as ‘sound-smoothing’ or ‘anti-shock’, works by minimising background noises from the environment. The sources of these noises range from traffic to wind and other sudden noises, like clanging dishes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
ITC and ITE hearing aids
If you want more discretion when it comes to how visible your hearing aids are, there are a range of smaller, more discreet options available that do just this. In-the-canal (ITC) and in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids, for instance, are far less visible than standard behind-the-ear (BTE) ones, but they also have fewer features and options than BTEs, and may require more maintenance.
Rechargeable hearing aids
Thanks to advancing technology, hearing aids can now be recharged, making them more dependable and long-lasting. These can be a more convenient option than some traditional digital hearing aids, as you don’t need to carry small batteries around with you or change the batteries on a regular basis.
Invisible hearing aids
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) or invisible hearing aids are the smallest types of hearing aids we currently offer. They are almost invisible because all the functioning components are in the earmould, so they can be a perfect option for those wanting a more discreet option. However, they are not suitable for people who have frequent ear infections or who are prone to earwax which may frequently block the ear canal and may prevent the hearing aid from working properly. CICs may also not be suitable for those with severe hearing loss.
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.
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, head over here to book an appointment,or visit our hearing resource to learn more about the different hearing options available.
PGCE FdSc RHAD MSHAA
Samantha works in the professional advancement team as national training manager for audiology. She supports Specsavers desire to continue to raise clinical standards through organising… Read more