Picking the right hearing aid has mainly to do with the severity and type of hearing loss, as well as your lifestyle and budget. Today’s hearing aids come in a variety of colors and sizes. What’s more, there are a number of additional features and ways they contour and fit into our outside of your ear. Deciding on the right device is a choice that should be made in tandem with your audiologist or hearing professional.
The first thing you are going to want to do is verify the cause of your hearing loss. This can be done by visiting your doctor. Often, a decrease in hearing can be caused by impacted cerumen (ear wax). While Q-tips can be helpful removing wax, repeated use while venturing too deep can push wax further into the canal and against the eardrum. In these cases an otolaryngologist can remove impacted wax either manually or through irrigation with body temperature water and a saline solution. This almost always results in a noticeable improvement in hearing.
Additionally, different types of ear infection may cause hearing loss as well. Your healthcare professional will be able to rule these out. Afterward, make an appointment with an audiologist to get a proper hearing test in order to determine your hearing aid options.
Options to Consider First
Before deciding on the type and style of hearing aid you want, there are a few policy-level things you might want to consider when choosing a provider. Trial periods, for example, are especially useful. Any hearing aid will take a while to get used to, so you definitely want some time to make sure the device is right for you. Make sure the hearing aid provider specifies the cost of the trial and whether it is refundable or can be credited to the final cost of the hearing aid should you decide to keep it.
Verifying warranty details is also important. Hearing aids should all come with coverage for repairs for at least an initial time period. Some of the better warranties also include office visits. You will also want to make sure the chosen device is upgradable should your hearing worsen over time. This can mean purchasing hearing aids capable of increased power, or the ability to exchange your current aids for a more powerful device.
Finally, always remember that no hearing aid can return your hearing to normal, or cut out 100% of background noise. So beware of providers who make such claims. The average cost for a hearing aid can be anywhere from $1,000 - $4,000, they are not covered by Medicare and only sometimes partially covered by private medical insurance. Because of all this, it is essential that you invest enough time and exercise care to make an educated decision when choosing a hearing aid.
Different Types of Hearing Aids
Most modern hearing aids can be divided into two basic styles: those that fit into the ear itself, and those that sit behind the ear. On the whole, in-the-ear hearing aids are less detectable, but behind the ear models can offer more amplification. Both styles are made from an ear mold that a hearing professional can cast in their office in about 15 minutes.
Behind the Ear Models
Behind the Ear models can accommodate a wider variety of hearing loss, from mild to profound. Also, as the controls for volume and programming are located on the casing behind the ear, they are much more easily accessible and therefore better suited for those suffering from arthritis, or anyone who might not have the dexterity to manipulate smaller controls for that matter.
Mini-BTE – The least visible of the behind the ear models, mini-BTE’s speakers are in the part of the device that's behind the ear. Sound is transmitted to the earpiece through a very small, hollow tube. The earpiece of these models was specifically designed to fit inside the ear canal but not block it, allowing for airflow and unamplified sound that more closely resembles the natural state of the ear. The amplified, higher frequencies enter the ear through the tip of the earpiece. These models are ideal for those with mild to moderate hearing loss, particularly of higher frequencies, who want a more natural feeling device.
Receiver in the ear – With RITE-style hearing aids the speaker is in the earpiece, while the microphone sits in the casing behind the ear. This style tends to fill and block more of the ear canal and is ideal for those with more severe hearing loss. Also, since the speaker sits inside the ear it can often be damaged by wax or moisture and require professional repair or cleaning.
In the Ear Models
ITE models are single units that fit inside the ear. There are no other parts, tubes, or wires. ITEs are made from an impression taken of your ear canal and are generally chosen because they are much more discreet than BTE hearing aids. Indeed the different styles are mainly differentiated by how detectable they are. ITEs are, however, only recommended for those with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Completely in canal – CIC hearing aids are the most undetectable on the market. Nearly invisible, they are usually so small that they have no controls and must be programmed prior to use. Aside from cosmetics, the main advantage is they are the least susceptible to wind noise. However there are drawbacks. The small size requires very small batteries, which don’t have the longest life span. Changing the batteries also requires a high degree of manual dexterity. Furthermore, because of where they are placed, CIC models are the most susceptible to earwax and moisture damage.
In the canal – Similar to CIC hearing aids, ITC models are partially in the canal but, as they are larger, sit in the bowl of the outer ear as well. They are slightly larger devices, and consequently have longer battery lives. Unlike CIC models, in the canal hearing aids can come programed with additional features, such as volume control and directional microphones.
In the ear (low profile) – These are the most visible of the in the ear models, but the only ones that can accommodate to more severe hearing loss. ITE hearing aids can sit in the bowl of the outer ear, or fill almost the entire ear cavity. Out of all inner ear models there are the most appropriate for those who may have issues manipulating small controls. ITE hearing aids also have the most additional features including volume control, directional mics, and sound profile changing capabilities.
If you are suffering from hearing loss of any degree, these days there are more options than ever before. First determine the cause of your hearing loss. Then pick a company that allows a trial period and has a warranty. Finally, decide on the best fit for you considering degree of hearing loss, your personal dexterity and preference for appearance, and additional features provided. Our top ten hearing aid providers would be a great place to start.