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How to Choose and Use a Hearing Aid

A hearing aid can help you hear the speech of those around you. It will not bring back your hearing to normal. It is most helpful for people who have hearing loss due to problems with the sensory cells in the ear, most often due to aging or injury.

Sound starts as pulses that enter the ear. The pulses awaken sensors in the ear. The sensors make messages through the nerves that the brain understands as sound. Damage to these cells can make them less able to sense pulses. A hearing aid raises the power of the pulses so the cells can sense them.

Steps to Take

Technology has made some hearing aids better. Take some time to learn about the types you can choose from. Your doctor or a hearing specialist can help.

There are two types of hearing aids:

  • Analog hearing aids are the most common and least costly. They make sound and background noise louder. Some models have options for many settings.
  • Digital hearing aids are more costly. They change sound waves into digital signs. They also make sound louder and background noise quieter.

You can choose a hearing aid based on your needs:

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids—A small plastic case is worn behind the ear. The case connects to a small speaker that sits inside the outer ear. It is a good choice for mild to severe hearing loss. There are many types of BTE aids based on the part of the aid that sits in the outer ear:
    • Standard BTE—The speaker is in a plastic ear mold that covers part of the outer ear.
    • Mini-BTE—The speaker is in the ear canal.
    • Open-fit—This is a smaller, harder-to-see type of BTE aid. Only a small plastic tube leaves the device behind the ear. The tube passes into the ear canal, leaving most of the canal open. It may also have technology called telecoil that can help hear speech over a special phone. You cannot see it as much. It is also a good choice for people with earwax build up.
  • In-the-ear aids—The aid is in a hard plastic case that is molded to fit inside the outer ear. It may also be equipped with a telecoil. These devices can be seen by someone standing face-to-face with you. They are best for adults with mild to severe hearing loss.
  • Canal aids—The devices are in the ear canal and are not very easy to see. There are two main types. The in-the-canal (ITC) type is shaped to fit in the shape and size of the canal. The completely-in-canal (CIC) type is hidden in the canal. These aids may be hard to get used to because they are so small and are most helpful for someone with mild to severe hearing loss.

Other tools may also help support your hearing aids.

  • Bluetooth technology can sync your hearing aid to your smartphone. This helps you make phone calls. Other features include streaming audio from a device to your Bluetooth hearing aid.
  • Personal sound amplifiers (PSAPs)—These can be used to make sounds louder, but they are not useful for people with hearing loss. Some people with mild hearing loss may get help from these tools by linking them to a hearing aid.
  • Assistive hearing devices—These devices can boost sound for low hearing loss. Earphones, vibrating, flashing, and louder devices all fit into this group.

Other features to think about include directional microphone, feedback suppression, wax guides, automatic volume control, and noise reduction.

Your doctor or hearing aid specialist can talk to you about which types may be best for you.

Use the hearing aid as advised. Some have changes that can be made for different settings. You will need to follow cleaning instructions to keep the device working as it should.

Common Question

Q. I just got a hearing aid and am bothered because my voice sounds too loud and other people sound far away or like they are talking into a barrel. Can I get this to stop?

A. Things can sound strange at first but often start sounding normal again over the first month or so. Ask your doctor what you can expect when you start using your hearing aid. If the problem lasts longer or the issues are very bothersome, ask if changes can be made to the hearing aid.

Problems to Look Out For

Call your doctor or hearing specialist if at any time you:

  • Have problems that make you want to stop using the hearing aid
  • Have pain in your ears
  • Have pus exiting your ear
  • A loud, high-pitched squealing or whistling noise (feedback) coming from your hearing aid
RESOURCES:

American Academy of Audiology
http://www.audiology.org

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Academy of Audiology
http://www.canadianaudiology.ca

The International Hearing Society
http://ihsinfo.org

REFERENCES:

Hearing aid buying guide. Consumer Reports website. Available at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/hearing-aids/buying-guide.htm. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Hearing aid: caring for. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Hearing aids. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-aids. Accessed September 17, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary-Beth Seymour, RN  Last Updated: 9/17/2021