Hearing Aids and Accessories, and Assistive Devices

An estimated 35 million children and adults in the United States have a hearing loss. For these people, selecting the most suitable hearing aids can be vital to enjoying life to its fullest. Less than 25% of all people who need hearing aids actually get them. Most people don't realize that the majority of hearing losses can be treated with hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can cause embarrassment, social stress, tension, and fatigue. This is true not only for the person with the hearing loss but also for family members, friends, and colleagues. New research suggests an association between hearing loss and dementia - another reason to have a hearing evaluation if you suspect a hearing loss. In the case of children, untreated hearing loss can affect school performance and social development.

Approximately 5% to 10% of adult hearing problems are treatable medically or by surgery. The percentage is higher in children if middle ear disease, such as ear infection, is the cause.If a hearing evaluation indicates that the condition cannot be medically or surgically treated, additional testing may be done to determine whether hearing aids will be beneficial.

If you have hearing loss, an audiologist can find the best type and model of hearing aid for you. If you have hearing loss in both ears, the audiologist may recommend that you use two hearing aids. Wearing two hearing aids:

  • Helps in localizing the direction of sounds
  • Improves listening in noisy situations
  • Provides better overall hearing

The audiologist will provide you with the recommended hearing aid(s) and/or other hearing assistive devices and will instruct you in their use.

In-the-Canal (ITC) and Completely-in-the-Canal (CIC) Aids

These aids are contained in a tiny case that fits partly or completely into the ear canal. They are the smallest aids available and offer some cosmetic and listening advantages.

In-the-Ear (ITE) Aids

All parts of the aid are contained in a shell that fills in the outer part of the ear. These aids are larger than canal aids and, for some people, may be easier to handle than smaller aids

Behind-the-Ear (BTE) Aids

All parts of the aid are contained in a small plastic case that rests behind the ear. The case is connected to an ear mold by a piece of clear tubing. This style is often chosen for young children for safety and growth reasons.

Behind-the-Ear Aid: Open Fitting

A small plastic case rests behind the ear, and a very fine clear tube runs into the ear canal. Inside the ear canal, a small, soft silicone dome or a molded, highly vented acrylic tip holds the tube in place. These aids offer cosmetic and listening advantages and are used typically for adults.

Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) Aids

These aids look very similar to the behind-the-ear hearing aid with a unique difference: the speaker of the hearing aid is placed inside the ear canal, and thin electrical wires replace the acoustic tube of the BTE aid. These aids also offer cosmetic and listening advantages and are typically used for adults.

Digital programmable hearing aids use digitized sound processing (DSP) to convert sound waves into digital signals. A computer chip in the aid analyzes the signals to determine whether the sound is noise or speech. It then makes modifications to provide a clear, amplified, distortion-free signal. Digital hearing aids are usually self-adjusting. The digital processing allows for more flexibility in programming the aid. In this way, the sound it transmits matches your specific pattern of hearing loss.

This digital technology can be expensive, but it offers many advantages. Key benefits include:

  • improvement in programmability
  • greater precision in fitting
  • management of loudness discomfort
  • control of acoustic feedback (whistling sounds)
  • noise reduction

Some aids can store several programs. As your listening environment changes, you can change the hearing aid settings. This is usually done by pushing a button on the hearing aid or by using a remote control to switch channels. The aid can be reprogrammed by the audiologist if your hearing or hearing needs change. Each person's hearing loss presents unique characteristics. Consider your audiologist’s expertise about product quality and follow-up services when you make your purchase decision.

The following situations are difficult for all listeners, but they are especially difficult for people with hearing loss:

Distance between the listener and the sound source: The farther away you are from a speaker, of course, the harder it is to hear the speaker.This is because the intensity, or loudness, of a sound fades rapidly as it travels over distance. So, while you may have no difficulty hearing someone inclose range, you may have considerable difficulty hearing the same person across the room.

Competing noise in the environment: Most room shave background noise that competes with the spoken message or sound we want to hear. Examples of background noise include ventilation systems, others talking, paper shuffling, computers, radios, TVs, outside traffic or construction, and activities in adjacent rooms. Background noise can make hearing very challenging.

Poor room acoustics/reverberation: A room’s acoustics are the quality of sound maintained in the room, and they can affect your ability to hear effectively. Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces like windows, walls, and hard floors. This creates sound reflections and echoes(called “reverberation”). The result of excess reverberation is distorted speech. Large gyms, cathedrals, and open marble lobbies quickly come to mind when we think about reverberation. Reverberation also can occur in smaller spaces such as classrooms. We’ve all experienced how much easier it is to hear in rooms that are carpeted and have upholstered furniture (which absorbs noise)than in empty rooms with tile or cement floors.

Any one of these conditions (distance, noise, or reverberation) can create listening problems. More often than not, they occur together and have a debilitating effect on the ability to hear and process speech. Hearing aid accessories can help you overcome these listening difficulties. These useful add-ons link to your hearing aids to help you hear more in challenging situations.

A remote microphone can enhance your one-to-one conversations in noise and over distance. It is attached to your conversation partner`s clothing and transmits their voice to your hearing aids wirelessly.

Remote controls wirelessly connect to the hearing aids for easy control of the most important functions.

Neck worn gateway devices transform hearing instruments into personal wireless headsets. Phone conversations, TV, music, computer, cell phone chats, podcasts, live performances, presentations and more can be streamed to wireless hearing instruments with ease.

A wonderful feature available on many hearing aids is called the telecoil. It's also referred to as a "t-switch" or "t-coil".  A telecoil can be an alternate or supplemental input device for a hearing aid. It connects the listener directly to the sound source over a broadcast from a public address system or other electromagnetic signal.  Bypassing ambient noise, this wireless connection lets users clearly hear actors on stage, the person in the subway information booth, their ministers or rabbis, announcements at an airport, even their own television sets.  Telecoils area standard feature on most BTE and RIC style hearing aids.

Some assistive listening technologies are used without hearing aids.  These are designed to enhance telephone communication, TV reception, ensure an effective smoke alarm, or listening in various kinds of public venues.

Most TV programs and commercials have closed captioning which means written words of the text are displayed on the TV screen. The captions are accessed either directly by the TV’s remote or going into the menu and finding the caption options.  Captioned telephones show written captions of everything the caller says. The written text appears in a built-in display screen.

Infrared systems are often used in the home with TV sets, but they can also be used in large settings like theaters. With an infrared system, sound from the TV is transmitted using infrared light waves. This sound is transmitted to your receiver, which you can adjust to your desired volume. TheTV can be set to a volume comfortable for any other viewers with normal hearing. Thus, TV watching as a family becomes pleasurable for all.

There are visual systems that can be used alone or in combination with listening devices and hearing aids. Persons who are hard of hearing or deaf, or even persons who have no hearing loss, can benefit. These are alerting devices that signal you when sounds such as the following occur:

  • Doorbell or knock at the door
  • Telephone
  • Fire alarm or smoke alarm
  • Baby crying
  • Alarm clock

Many of these solutions use strobe light or conventional light to alert you. Others use vibrating systems to signal an alert.