General Information on hearing aids:
The first hearing aids were fairly simple cone-shaped instruments ranging from a rolled-up tube to an elaborate “ear trumpet” which gave consumers a slight boost in sound. The first hearing aid appeared in 1921 after the Invention of the vacuum tube, but these devices were cumbersome units with large parts and heavy batteries.
Today, a hearing aid system consists of a small microphone designed to pick up sound waves and convert them into electrical signals in a pattern that represents sound waves. These signals are fed into an amplifier, which boosts the signal and sends it to a receiver.
The receiver converts the amplified signals back into sound and transmits them into the ear through the ear mold. If the ear mold is properly fitted, it carries the amplified sound into the ear canal. A poorly-fitted ear mold, however, causes whistles and squeals and can be irritating and painful to the wearer.
This is why custom-fitted molds are often more desirable than ready-made types.
Although a hearing aid can amplify sound, it doesn’t necessarily improve the clarity of the sound. Unfortunately, aids can’t make hearing completely normal, and they require practice and skill to be used effectively. Still, even profoundly deaf individuals can benefit from powerful behind-the-ear aids.
Modern hearing aids do much more than simply amplify sound; they can also filter background noise, change tonal quality and control the loudness of environmental sounds.
Researchers have been able to devise smaller and smaller units that are less visible, which appeals to those who don’t want others to know they wear hearing aids.
TYPES OF HEARING AIDS
Today’s most sophisticated aids may range up to $6,000; most of these are small enough to fit into a pocket. Most are not usually covered by health insurance.
These newest type of digital hearing aids represent a major breakthrough in computer-tuned
sound, and contain miniature computer chips designed to tailor sound to the ear of the person wearing the device.
These are actually tiny computers that have a computer chip inside doing the amplifier work, inside of the traditional analog circuity. While most people with hearing problems have trouble with certain tones within the hearing spectrum, most aids amplify all tones equally.
Digital aids can be adjusted to screen out background noise and amplify certain tones, depending on the environment. Some of the newest aids break down sound into more than twice as many channels as other aids on the market, providing a more personalized hearing experience. They are set by hearing health care providers using an external computer.
Nonlinear Single-Channel Aids
More advanced technology produced a nonlinear aid that has more amplification given to soft sounds than for loud sounds. Once sounds reach a certain level, the aid automatically adjusts the volume. This type of aid squeezes a wide range of loudness into a narrower range, which is why they are also called compression hearing aids.
Nonlinear Multi-channel Aids
This newer type of aid is designed with a consumer’s personal hearing needs in mind, based upon how loud certain sounds need to be interpreted for various frequencies.
In hearing aids with only one channel, a loud noise of low frequency (such as sound during a party) would trigger the hearing aid to lower the amplification for all frequencies, which would help keep the sound from being too loud – but would also make some high-frequency sounds (such as consonants) too soft to hear.
In the same situation, a multi-channel aid would decrease the amplification for low frequencies without changing the amplification for high frequencies. If fitted correctly, they can greatly improve speech clarity (especially in noisy listening environments).
Multiple/Automatic Program Aids
Some hearing aids have several different programs that can be selected by a touch of a button (either on the aid or on a separate remote control) to select amplification best suited to different environments, such as listening, in a restaurant, in a one-on-one situation or for music.
Other aids have automatic volume regulation so that the consumer doesn’t have to bother with volume volume control. However, some people don’t like aids that take away too much control.
In-the-ear-aids are the lightweight devices that fit inside the ear canal with no visible wires or
tubes. This aid is created from an impression of your ear canal; the components are then built into the case that is molded from this impression.
There are a number of styles of aids that are encased within a plastic shell and are worn entirely within the ear. These include:
- traditional in-the-canal
- custom in-the-ear (ITE) model, which can completely fill the ear canal
- half-concha, a thinner low-profile model
- helix model, an even smaller model (for high-frequency losses)
- completely-in-the-canal aid, the tiniest style, so small it must be remove from the ear by pulling on a thin cord that rest at the bottom of the bowl of the ear.
It’s possible to control tone but not volume, which makes them generally helpful for only mild losses. More than half of all the hearing aids sold today are in-the-ear aids. These new aids are extremely expensive, but they are invisible and offer acoustic and maintenance advantages.
The good thing about an in-the-ear aid is that it won’t bump into your glasses, and it can provide more power for the higher frequencies. In addition, many people find these aids are easier to put on and take off than the behind-the-ear style.
Less popular are the behind-the-ear aids that include a microphone, amplifier, and a receiver
inside a small curved case worn behind the ear that’s connected to the earmold by a short plastic tube.
The earmold extends into the ear canal from a quarter to three quarters of an inch. Some models have both tone and volume control plus a telephone pickup device.
This style does not require as much maintenance since the earmolds can handle everyday trauma better than smaller, more delicate models. They are easily interchangeable if you have to take one in for servicing.
Some people who must wear glasses find that the aids interfere with the fit of the eyeglasses. Others don’t have enough space behind their ears for such a device to fit comfortably.
Bone Conduction Aids
Bone conduction aids are designed primarily for people with conductive hearing loss that hasn’t been effectively treated with surgery. This type of aid, which allows sound to be heard through the bone behind the ear, is used when the ear canal is cloced or drainage fromthe ear is poor.
This model is much the same as the behind-the-ear aid, except that the case fits into an eyeglass frame instead of resting behind the ear. While this means that the eyeglass frame needs to be slightly larger, modern miniaturized parts can be incorporated into an eyeglass frame that isn’t too large.
Still, not very many people choose to purchase such an aid. They are useful for those whose hearing loss ranges from mild to severe.
CROS or Crossover System
This type of hearing aid system, often used in conjunction with the eyeglass model, is used by people with normal hearing in one ear and a moderate-to-severe loss in the other. The CROS ( contralateral routing of signal) system features a microphone, amplifier, and controls behind the impaired ear that feeds the amplified signal to the better ear, eliminating “head shadow” (which occurs when the head blocks sound from the better ear).
The amplified sound from the hearing aid on the one side is added to the normal sound entering the healthy ear.
A CRIS – CROS hearing aid is designed for someone with severe hearing loss in both ears who may be unable to wear hearing aids at ear level because of feedback problems. Feedback occurs when the amplifier leaks sound back into the microphone because it’s too close to the receiver.
In this case, a CRIS – CROS aid uses two CROS aids behind the ear, each unit encompassing the microphone for the other side.
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These hearing aids feature a larger microphone, amplifier and power supply inside a case
carried inside a pocket or attached to clothing. The external receiver attaches directly to the earmold; its power comes through a flexible wire from the amplifier.
Although larger than other aids. on-the-body hearing aids are also more powerful and easier to adjust than smaller devices. If you are almost totally deaf, you may find you need that extra boost in power available only from the body aid.
Monaural hearing aids include any aid that provides sound to just one ear, whereas binaural aids include two complete hearing devices, one in each ear. Some wearers find that the binaural system increases direction sense and helps separate sound from unwanted background noise.
Any type of hearing aid may be worn in both ears, if the listener can tolerate two aids and can benefit from amplifying residual hearing in both ears.
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