Small enough to fit inside or behind the ear, these electronic devices make some sounds louder, allowing users to hear better in most environments. Aids do not actually improve auditory performance, but merely amplify sound. Most consist of a microphone, an amplifier, and a receiver that delivers augmented sounds into the ear. Batteries are typically needed to power the device’s electronics.
As we mentioned, about one in five people have some degree of auditory impairment, but not all of them can benefit from an aid. Those with conductive hearing loss, for example, have structural issues that can only be corrected with surgery or medical treatment. Hearing aids are most effective for folks who have suffered some damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. Known as sensorineural loss, it is commonly caused by aging, noise damage, or disease. The only bright spot is that the problem does not usually rob a person of their ability to hear completely.
At last count, about 8 million Americans wore hearing aids. That might seem like a lot of people, but it is only a fraction of the number that could benefit from their use. According to audiologists, only about one in five people who should be wearing the device actually does. Why is this? There are lots of reasons, but the lack of information is mainly to blame. With that in mind, let us take a moment to discuss the two types of aids and how they are used.
For people with mild to moderate hearing loss, an analog model may be the best option. Inexpensive and easy to adjust, these devices convert sound waves into electrical signals that are then amplified and delivered to the ear.
Far more versatile than the analog version, a digital device converts sounds waves in numerical codes, amplifies, and delivers them to the ear. Because the numerical codes contain information about loudness, direction, and pitch, it is much easier to adjust them based needs of the user. As you might expect, these sophisticated aids are generally more expensive than basic analog models. But like anything else, you get what you pay for. All patients who suffer from moderate to severe auditory loss should strongly consider digital over analog versions.