How Hearing Aids Work and How to Choose the Right One

Hearing aids have long been a helpful resource for people who suffer from hearing loss in one or both ears. People of all ages can experience hearing issues, though like many things relating to the senses, it is more common as people get older. While often hearing issues can be the result of something that can be rectified, such as an ear infection or build-up of ear wax, if this is not the case, then a hearing aid may be needed to amplify sounds and allow the person experiencing hearing loss to hear their surroundings better. 

There are many different styles and types of hearing aids available, and they all have their pros and cons for people with different hearing problems. Here, we take a look at how hearing aids actually work, and how to choose from all of the different types if you, or someone you are responsible for caring for like your child or an elderly relative, needs one.

Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash

Photo by Mark Paton on Unsplash

How do Hearing Aids Actually Work? 

Hearing aids do come in a wide range of designs and types, but they all work in much the same way. They have microphones that pick up the surrounding sounds, and then convert that sound into digital code which is amplified directly into the ear. Because the sound is digitised, it is possible for a hearing aid to be calibrated to reduce certain frequencies, and cut out background noise the user isn’t interested in hearing, much like noise-cancelling headphones can allow people with normal hearing to only experience the sounds they want to hear.  

Due to the way that hearing aids work, they are only suitable for people with hearing loss, and will not help with an ear that is completely unable to process sound. This means that they are typically used on people with mild to severe hearing loss, but not on people who are fully deaf in one or both ears. You can find help with getting hearing aids suitable for your needs, as well as other great hearing health resources here:  

Hearing aids run off batteries, and while these are small, the battery life is a big limitation when it comes to the difference between the very tiniest, most discreet models, and the larger ones. Smaller models can also be more complicated to use, as well as needing more frequent battery charges, and so the smaller styles of hearing aid that sit in the ear canal are usually only recommended for adults, with children more often using the more classic behind the ear type designs.  

Getting Used to Wearing a Hearing Aid 

If you are starting to wear a hearing aid yourself, or are taking care of someone who has been recommended to use one, then it will take a while to get used to it. A hearing aid does allow you to hear things like conversations better, but it does not return your hearing to what it previously was. Most styles of hearing aid also plug the ear, which means that the only sounds you will hear are those amplified by the hearing aid device. This means that your own voice will sound different inside your head when you speak, just as it does if you plug one or both ears and try talking. This can take some getting used to but is something people normally adjust to easily with time, just as they adjust to wearing glasses.  

There are hearing aids called open-fit hearing aids that do not plug the ear and still allow some sound from the outside in. These are, however, designed for people whose hearing loss is only at certain frequencies, rather than across the whole sound spectrum.  

The Most Discreet Hearing Aids 

When choosing a hearing aid, what a lot of people consider first is how discreet it will look when worn. For adults, there are choices for mild to moderate hearing loss that can be extremely difficult to see, but this comes at the cost of lower battery life. If this is the type of hearing aid you would prefer, then the options are a ‘completely in the canal’ or CIC hearing aid, or an ‘in the canal’ or ITC design. CIC styles are the very smallest and also the least visible, and because they sit within the ear canal they are also much less likely to annoy you with wind noise than designs where the microphones are outside of the sheltered ear canal area. However, due to the very small design, they tend to lack a lot of the features that can be incorporated into other styles, such as having volume control and multi-directional microphones. They can also easily get clogged up by ear wax during wear, which makes them less effective. 

ITC models, like CIC models, are custom-made to fit perfectly into your ear but have part of its design sitting outside of the ear canal. It is slightly more visible but can offer more features. However, you still have some compromises to make due to the small size, such as it being more difficult to actually adjust settings while wearing than with larger, behind the ear hearing aids. 

The next size up is ITE or ‘in the ear hearing aids’, which offer a longer battery life, more features, and are easier use than the CIC and ITC designs, but at the expense of being more visible and having greater wind noise. 

Behind the Ear Hearing Aids 

Behind the ear hearing aids are the classic style we are used to seeing people use. Less visible styles are becoming more readily available, but they are more visible than the other styles discussed due to having a small unit that sits behind the ear. These are the ones with the best features and battery life and can provide more amplification, so they are recommended for all ages and levels of hearing loss. 

Hearing aids can greatly improve quality of life, but it is important to choose the right type for your needs and priorities. Talk to an expert to find out more about the best hearing aid for you.