A hearing aid is a device used to amplify sound for individuals who suffer from hearing loss.
Hearing aids are electronic and most commonly sit discreetly behind the ear to make sounds louder, so that the individual can actively listen and communicate in a range of situations. They are made up of three main components - a speaker, amplifier and microphone.
The sound enters the microphone, which then converts the sound waves and sends them through to the amplifier where they are made stronger, or in effect louder. They are then sent through to the speaker, which transmits these amplified signals into the ear.
Hearing Aids In The UK
The NHS estimates that there are 4 million people in the UK who are not currently wearing a hearing aid, yet could benefit from one.
Hearing aids can amplify sound to help people who have partial hearing loss, and this can greatly improve the individual’s overall quality of life as they can participate in activities and conversations from which they may otherwise be excluded. Hearing aids are especially useful to individuals who have hearing loss that has arisen as a result of damage to the sensory cells in the inner ear, also called sensorineural hearing loss.
There are two types of hearing aids, analogue and digital. An analogue hearing aid converts sound waves into electrical signals, while digital aids turn sound waves into numerical codes before amplifying them. As the vibration of the sound waves that enter the ear are made more significant, the hair cells that haven’t been damaged are able to pick them up. These vibrations are then turned into neural signals, which are then sent to the brain to transmit sound.
If you are experiencing increasing difficulty hearing, you may be able to benefit from having a hearing aid fitted. You should make an appointment with your GP, who may then refer you to an audiologist or in some cases an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist), who will seek to determine the cause and degree of the hearing loss to see if you could be a good candidate for a hearing aid.
What Are The Benefits?
If you are experiencing hearing loss that is becoming problematic and impeding your everyday ability to communicate and engage with those around you, a hearing aid could be hugely beneficial.
As we age, hearing loss is common, but it can also occur as a side effect of certain medicines, excessive exposure to loud noise, or a traumatic injury. Provided there are still some surviving hair cells that have not been damaged, a device would be effective in restoring your hearing. With a hearing aid that has been correctly fitted and put to the right setting for effective amplification, individuals can experience a number of benefits, primarily the improved capacity for communication.
You can once again listen to your favourite television or radio shows, or even a conversation without having to rely on visual cues. You can also hear yourself better as you talk, which can improve your own speech capacity.
Who Offers Hearing Aids?
The cost of a hearing aid bought privately will depend on the type and the manufacturer, but generally speaking the price can range from £495 to over £3,495. Leading brands include Starkey, Siemens, Phonak and Widex, and these can be purchased from places such as Hidden Hearing or Bloom, or from high-street retailers such as Boots or Specsavers. Retailers like Bloom will even provide in-home trials for you so you can get an idea of which is right for you. When buying a hearing aid from a private supplier, you should ensure they are a registered hearing aid dispenser, which will be indicated by the letters RHAD after their name.
NHS vs. Private
When you obtain a hearing aid through the NHS you won’t have to pay for it. Your audiologist will share with you the most suitable type of hearing aid solution based on your requirements, bearing in mind that all hearing aids supplied by the NHS will be digital and not analogue. You may be given a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid, a bone-anchored hearing aid, or if you only experience hearing loss in one ear, your specialist may suggest a BiCROS hearing aid.
Fitting Your Hearing Aid
Once you have been prescribed a hearing aid, you will be scheduled a fitting to ensure it sits correctly on your ear, and provides the right amount of amplification specific to your level of hearing loss.
Your test results will be put through a computer which will calculate the right settings for your hearing aid. If you are receiving a hearing aid on the NHS, these are normally the kind that fit behind the ear (BTE hearing aids). For this, you will need to have an earmould taken to ensure the correct shape and size of your actual hearing aid.
Your fitting will take place during an appointment that will last 60 to 90 minutes, during which you’ll be given advice about the wearing schedule, along with an introduction to the overall usage and maintenance guidelines. You will be given a supply of batteries, along with an instruction booklet that will outline how to replace these as needed. You will also likely be given a cleaning tool and case in which to put your hearing aids when you’re not wearing them.
You will have a follow-up appointment somewhere between four to 12 weeks after your initial fitting, at which point you’ll be able to ask questions and raise any issues you may have been having with your hearing aids.
You will need to change your hearing aid batteries regularly, and most will beep to alert you to when it is time to change them.
You may want to ask your audiologist for a demonstration to show you how to do this, or consult your instruction booklet. Hearing loop systems are installed to help you make sense of individual noises in a busy environment (such as a shopping centre or a dinner party). You can switch your hearing aid into this mode when out and about, and then turn it back to your normal mode once home. Hearing aids should also be regularly cleaned, and again, you can ask your audiologist how best to do this to ensure they are kept in good condition.
Living With A Hearing Aid
Adjusting to life with a hearing aid can be a challenging process at first, as you will need to adapt to not only using the technology, but also the impact this technology has on your interaction and speech.
Studies have shown that one third of hearing aids aren’t used because the individual did not receive sufficient advice regarding usage and counseling when they were fitted. The latter can be especially beneficial for people who have recently been given a hearing aid, so make sure to ask your audiologist about the classes or sessions available to you.