Digital Hearing Aids

RachelHAThe human ear does not just make sounds louder but it also processes the sound information before transmitting it to the brain. Some hearing losses only involve the loudness of sound and are referred to as  "Conductive Loss". Conductive losses can often be treated with medications or surgery. Hearing aids are of great benefit to patients with conductive hearing loss when medical treatment is not appropriate or has been completed to the maximum extent possible.

"Nerve" or inner ear hearing losses are also common and often involve the processing of sound as well as volume. Patients with this type of loss will also benefit from the use of hearing aids.  

Hearing aids and digital technology have come a long way in the last decade. Improved filters and circuits have resulted in greater benefits to patients and improved patient usage.  Digital hearing aids are flexible and can be programmed to process sound selectively.  The digital technology within the hearing aid enables the aid to separate sound into different frequency regions and amplify each region selectively, depending on the hearing aid wearer’s hearing loss. The processing within hearing aids also enables different amount of amplification for soft, moderate or loud noise, so that soft sounds are audible and loud sounds are not uncomfortable or over amplified. Digital processing enables a natural sound quality with minimal distortion, resulting in excellent sound quality.

In addition to basic digital hearing aid technology, many hearing aid manufacturers offer several levels of advanced features made possible with digital processing technology. Digital hearing aids continue to advance and have become much more automatic and are equipped with sophisticated features for people who regularly encounter dynamic listening situations. Examples of some of these advanced features include the following:

Directional Microphones - Applies amplification to sounds originating in the front of the wearer, or the direction the person is facing, and reduces sound/noise originating from the sides or behind the wearer.  This technology has been proven in studies to improve speech understanding in environments with background noise.
Noise Reduction -Determines if signal contains unwanted background noise and reduced level of background noise if present. Background noise is less annoying and hearing aid wearer's listening comfort is improved in noisy situations.
Feedback Management - Reduces or eliminates whistling that can often occur with hearing aid use. Hearing aid wearer's comfort is improved from annoying whistling.
Wind Noise Reduction - Reduces the noise created from wind blowing across the hearing aid's microphone(s). Designed to improve comfort for persons who spend a lot of time outdoors.
Data Logging/Learning - The ability of the hearing aid to track and learn the hearing aid wearer's preferences in various listening environments. This information can assist the hearing professional in making future programming adjustments and allows the hearing aid to adapt to the wearer's preferences.
Bluetooth Interface - Establishes a wireless connection between hearing aids and Bluetooth compatible devices. Designed to improve wearer convenience and use with devices such as cell phones, land-line telephones and televisions. 

Hearing Aid Styles

There are a variety of digital hearing aid styles. The degree of hearing loss, power and option requirements, manual dexterity abilities, and cosmetic concerns are some of the factors that will determine the most appropriate model for the patient. 

Behind-The-Ear or “BTE” aids are worn behind the ear. BTEs have the most circuit options and are much more powerful than any of the custom made in-the-ear units. They conduct sound to the ear canal via an earmold. The earmold is custom made from an ear impression to perfectly replicate the size and shape of your ear.  Advantages of BTE aids include the ability to house many features, including volume control, directional microphones, and memory push buttons.

Open-fit hearing aids are similar in style to BTE aids as it also sits above your ear and the tubing travels down from there into your ear canal - but that's where the similarities end. Open-fit BTEs are smaller and employ newer technology - the shell above the ear is much smaller and the whole aid is lighter. The earpiece of an open-fit hearing aid is a small, soft rubber cap, which is more comfortable than the tightly fitting earpieces of BTEs, CICs, etc.

In-the-Ear hearing aids (ITEs) are custom-formed instruments molded to fit in the outer bowl-like portion of the ear (concha). These are custom made for you and include features similar to behind-the-ear aids. 

In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aids are molded to fit almost entirely in the ear canal. They are small, occupying about one quarter of the concha. They require greater dexterity for insertion and removal.  They are smaller than ITEs.  Advantages include a custom, comfortable fit and reduction of wind noise.

Mini-Canals or “MCs” are the size between ITC and CIC. A mini-canal is a good choice when you desire the smallest possible hearing aid while still having good manual dexterity.

Completely-in-the-Canal aids or “CICs”
are the smallest and most discreet. They fit completely in the ear canal making them virtually invisible. They usually require a “removal string” due to their small size and the fact that they fit so deeply into the canal. They do not have manual controls due to their size. Other than aesthetic advantages, benefits include less wind noise, more natural hearing and telephone use without feedback.

Extended-wear aids are the newest hearing aid type available.  These aids, known as "Lyric", are inserted (and removed) by the audiologist in the office and are intended to remain in place for several months.  The Lyric offers excellent hearing "24/7" as opposed to conventional daily-wear hearing aids.  Lyrics, however, are not appropriate for all patients.

All custom made hearing aids and earmolds are made from a “cast” of the ear. The cast is referred to as an ear impression. Our audiologist makes the ear impression in the office. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. The audiologist places a special cotton or foam dam in the ear canal to protect the eardrum and then a waxy material is placed in the ear canal. When the material hardens, the wax cast, along with the dam are removed from the ear canal. Often the ear canal will be “oily” after the impression is removed. This is normal. The oil comes from the waxy material and prevents the wax material from sticking to your skin. BE SURE TO TELL THE AUDIOLOGIST BEFORE THE EAR IMPRESSION IS OBTAINED IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO PLASTIC OR DYES!







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