What is a hearing aid?
A hearing aid is a digital amplification device that goes in your ear and helps send sound to the hearing organ when a person has trouble hearing.
How does it work?
Hearing aids consist of, among other things, microphones, a speaker, a battery, and a microchip. The microchip is designed to process sound based on a person’s specific hearing loss. Sound enters through microphones, is processed through the microchip and is sent through the speaker into the ear to allow a person to hear into the normal hearing range. Since everyone’s brain processes sound differently, the microchip is also adjustable (through the audiologist) to adapt noise and speech more clearly for each person.
Will hearing aids make my hearing loss go away?
Hearing aids will help a person hear better, but they cannot reverse hearing loss. That is, hearing aids help to treat the symptoms of hearing loss, but they do not heal the ear where the hearing loss has occurred. If a hearing aid is recommended for you, it is most often because your ENT or audiologist has determined that your hearing loss is not treatable.
Will hearing aids stop my hearing from getting worse?
Many types of hearing loss are progressive, such as presbycusis (the normal decline in hearing through age), hearing loss from continued noise exposure, hearing loss from continued ototoxic medication use, etc. Hearing aids cannot stop a person’s hearing from declining, but they can help the person hear better when wearing the devices, even as their hearing gets worse.
Hearing Aids and Cognition
Although hearing aids cannot prevent the decline in a person’s hearing (which mostly comes from the hearing organ), hearing aids are able to prevent and/or slow the decline of a patient’s ability to process sound (which occurs in the brain).
Hearing happens in two general areas- the ear and the brain. We need both, because we not only need to be able to hear the sound, but we need to be able to make sense of what the sound is or else the sound is meaningless. Research shows that the longer our brains are deprived of sound, the harder it is for the brain to be able to make sense of it, with or without hearing aids. This is why it’s important to treat the hearing loss early, so that we can prevent or slow the decline in sound processing with constant stimulation of sound to the brain.
Furthermore, research has also shown a link between hearing loss and cognitive decline. General cognition, on top of sound processing, can also decline as a result of prolonged untreated hearing loss. The link between the two is argued to be due to:
- The results of social isolation when a person pulls away from social situations due to not being able to hear.
- The brain pulling resources to work harder to try and make up for the hearing deficit.
- Domino effect in the neurodegenerative process
Even without a consensus on the cause of the link seen between cognition and hearing loss, research has shown that the use of hearing aids to combat the effects of hearing loss also reduces the effects of cognitive decline in patients who treat their hearing loss early.
Do I have to wear them every day?
Yes, in order to be successful with hearing aids and to keep give your brain the auditory stimulation it needs, a person will need to wear their hearing aids all day long (minus a few specific situations your audiologist will discuss with you).
What do hearing aids look like?
There are many different styles of hearing aids. The best style for you will be determined by your audiologist and will be based on your specific hearing loss and lifestyle. Below are a few styles of hearing aids that will be considered for each person who is a hearing aid candidate:
A RIC hearing aid is one of the most recommended styles of hearing aids, as it is often the style with the best sound quality and shelf life. It consists of a hearing aid body that sits behind the ear and a receiver wire (also called a speaker) that runs in front of the patient’s ear. An earbud sits on the end of the receiver wire to help the hearing aid sit in the ear canal.
A BTE is similar to a RIC in shape, but is usually a little bigger. It also has a hollow tube instead of a receiver wire (the receiver is in the body of the hearing aid behind the ear). A BTE is often held in the ear with a custom-shaped earmold that varies in size and visibility based on what the patient needs. This style is often recommended for small children or patients with very severe hearing losses.
Custom Hearing Aids
Custom hearing aids are also an option for some people. Custom hearing aids can be used for patients that don’t have a typical outer ear to hold a hearing aid, those with dexterity issues, or those looking for a visually pleasing alternative.
An IIC is the smallest custom hearing aid. This means that a mold is made of the inside of patient’s ear in order to shape the hearing aid perfectly for the patient. IIC’s have limited functionality and sound output, so they are not a good fit for everyone. Your audiologist will be able to tell you if this style would be recommended based on your hearing. This hearing aid is often a good “invisible” option, since it can sit almost hidden in the ear canal.
Similar to the IIC, the CIC is also a custom hearing aid, but is slightly more visible and functional. Depending on the shape of a person’s ear, this may the smallest custom hearing aid option for some individuals.
ITC: In-the-Canal Add pics like above
An ITC hearing aid will be more visible than a CIC, as it sits farther out into the bowl of the ear. This allows for more sound and functionality from the hearing aid, for patients that have more severe hearing losses. ITC hearing aids are good options for patients with minor dexterity issues.
An ITE is the largest custom hearing aid option and best for very poor dexterity. They also have the most sound and functionality for patients with severe hearing losses.
If you have questions about hearing aids, or would like to schedule a hearing aid consultation appointment, please give us a call at 972-566-8300 to schedule with Dr. Lindsey De Leon.
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