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Hearing Healthcare: An Overview of Hearing Aids and Examinations

hearing aidsDiscovering that you have hearing loss can be intimidating, often folks don’t know where to start or what to do in order to properly address and manage this newfound facet of your life. However, you need not feel alone. The ability to hear covers a wide spectrum and hearing needs can vary from being mild, moderate, severe, or profound. Over 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss to varying degrees according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that nearly 29 million adults could benefit from using hearing aids. Whether you’ve noticed that your hearing has diminished, or you’ve been formally tested in a hearing clinic, there are options abound to best discover what level of hearing healthcare is right for you.

How Hearing Works

How do we recognize what our hearing needs are? First, we need to understand the mechanisms behind our ability to hear. Soundwaves are vibrations which, upon reaching our ears, travel through our ear canal and to our eardrum. These vibrations then pass through our eardrum and ossicles (the technical term for our middle ear bones) to reach the inner ear, or cochlea. The cochlea has thousands of hair cells, or stereocilia, which are designed to convert those vibrations into electrical signals. These signals get sent to the brain through your hearing nerve. This process allows your brain to interpret sound information and translate it into the sounds we hear and learn to identify.

Measuring Hearing

Sound can be tangibly measured because it is a vibration. Decibels measure the intensity of sound and are used to define how significant your hearing needs are. Having a threshold of 25 decibels or better in both ears is how hearing test centers define typical hearing. Anyone with less than this in one or both ears officially can be considered to have hearing loss. Your primary care provider can give you a hearing screening, designed simply to assess whether your hearing falls into the typical category. Should your hearing fall into the atypical category, your physician may refer you to a hearing center for more specialized hearing evaluations meant to assess every aspect of the hearing process. Hearing loss comes in many forms, and part of hearing healthcare is creating a profile of your hearing needs and treatments. Some such evaluations include:

Air conduction: Your hearing clinic specialist will play a series of tones through headphones to measure how well you can hear different pitches.

Pure tone bone conduction: This bypasses the outer ear entirely by using a small vibrator to send sounds to your inner ear organs.

Speech testing: This test assesses how well you can hear speech in a variety of noise environments.

Speech Reception: An assessment of your ability to understand words spoken at low decibel levels.

Different Types of Hearing Aids

How do hearing aids factor into the complicated process of interpreting sound? There are several different types of hearing aids, but they are more generally defined as electronic devices designed for use both in and behind your ear. Their main function is making soundwaves easier to hear using a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The microphone receives the vibrations and converts them into electrical signals. Those signals are sent through the amplifier and then sent through to the ear via a speaker.

  • BTE (behind the ear) hearing aids are the most common hearing aids and get their name from the behind the ear component which attaches to ear-tips that fit right at the ear’s opening.

  • RIC (receiver in the canal) hearing aids are similar to BTE hearing aids, though they are smaller and designed to fit within the ear canal itself.

  • ITE/ITC (in the ear/canal) hearing aids are exactly what they claim to be, and sit in the outer ear or in the ear canal.

  • CIC or IIC (in canal) hearing aids rest deep within the ear canal and are the smallest hearing aids. As such, their amplification ability may be limited.