How Hearing Aids Work?
Updated: Apr 27
It has become common nowadays to wear hearing aids. Whether it is because of hearing loss due to a genetic disease or the result of different environmental factors, hearing aids have become the most convenient solution for hearing in a better way.
Today’s hearing aids are sophisticated and advanced communication devices that follow up with technology. Here, we will take a closer look on how these modern hearing aids work and what criteria to look at when choosing the right one.
What are hearing aids?
Hearing aids are small electronic devices that amplify sounds that reach to the ear. They are placed behind or inside the ear. That is they are worn outside the ear or inside it. They are not just for the elderly. They can also be worn by children and young adults.
People suffering from hearing loss can make use of them to improve their hearing and comprehension of speech. It simply corrects the damage happening in the ears. Hearing aids can be customized based on the person’s hearing loss.
After hearing testing is finalized, they are programmed to precise degree based on the results of the test. Their features can be adjusted to improve hearing in different situations and environments. Sounds become more understandable, background noise is filtered, and speech communication is improved.
They come in different styles, models and colors.
How do hearing aids work?
To understand how hearing aids work, we need to have a look inside them and get introduced to their different parts and their functions. This will help in choosing and buying the right one.
Hearing aids work through a three-part system and five basic components:
It receives sounds and convert them into digital signals.
It is very tiny and close to the ear. It is found on the outside of the hearing aid. This helps to pick up sound vibrations exactly how the ear does.
Similar to the human ear, hearing aids do not process sound waves immediately. Microphones act as transducers. They capture mechanical wave energy and convert it into electrical energy. That is they pick up sounds from the environment and convert them into electrical impulses.
There are two kinds of microphones:
omnidirectional microphone: It receives sounds from any direction. This type works best in quiet environments, since it picks up sounds equally from all around it. They are not the best when found in noisy environments.
directional microphone: It aims at receiving sounds coming the front or behind you, from a specific and chosen direction. Its main focus is to capture speech. They can selectively tune-in and tune-out specific noises in the environment. They work best in noisy environments.
Depending on the model, some hearing aids can have more than microphone.
It is a computer chip with special computer algorithms found in modern hearing aids.
It is located between the microphone and the receiver.
It increases the strength of digital electrical signals and boosts their volume. It passes them through the receiver to the ear.
It cleans up these signals, removes noise and improves speech.
Hearing loss reduces the individual’s dynamic range of hearing. This narrows and affects the sounds that need to be compressed into to remain audible. Loud sounds become uncomfortable and painful sometimes. That is why hearing aids use Wide Dynamic Range Compression (WDRC). This method amplifies soft sounds.
The speaker or the receiver
The receiver converts the amplified electrical signals back into sounds or vibrations that pass directly the inner ear, which reach to the brain.
It produces the amplified sound directly into the ear. Natural hearing process takes over and the brain collects the impulses.
To ensure that this process works, a battery is needed inside the hearing aid. It can be a little replaceable battery cell or a built-in rechargeable battery.
It is the most important part in the hearing aid. Without it, the hearing aid will not function.
It powers the device and makes it function properly.
The computer processor
The microphone picks up nearby sounds.
These sounds are analyzed, then adjusted by the processing chip which is customized to the patient’s type of hearing loss. The sound waves are transformed to electrical signals.
The sounds processed are then conducted to the amplifier.
These amplified sounds will be sent to the speaker and into the inner ear. This happens either through tubing in ear molds in the ear canal or through a thin wire to receivers in the ear.
In the inner ear, sounds are converted into electrical impulses which are picked up by the brain and processed into sound.
Hearing aids don’t make sounds louder. They amplify sounds you need to communicate and reduce the disruptive ones that you don’t.
Hearing aids are battery-powered. Some still run on disposable batteries, while the majority nowadays have built-in rechargeable batteries. In other words, you can charge your hearing aids in the same way you change your phone.
Hearing aid technology
Modern hearing aids are equipped now with advanced technology and features that help users lead a normal life. These range from using artificial intelligence to selectively blocking out particular sounds and streaming music and phone calls directly to them. They can be straightforwardly linked to your smartphone.
Wireless technology is being used to allow the two hearing aids to work and communicate together as one united hearing system. Whether you are driving, listening to music, walking, or sitting in a busy restaurant, you can use them without any difficulty. They include:
This allows hearing aids to connect to other Bluetooth-enabled audio sources like the TV, tablets and even mobile phones.
Sometimes, additional devices like streamers are required. They are positioned between the devices to transfer signals.
They represent a wireless element that gathers electromagnetic signals from looped rooms or telephones.
They improve hearing in public settings, such as airports, public performances, tours, exhibits, meeting rooms and theaters.
During phone calls, they help to transfer speech signals from your phone directly into your ear. This enhances sound quality and speech comprehension.
It minimizes background noises from the environment such as traffic, wind, or any sudden noises and makes it less annoying.
It analyzes signals to check if they contain unwanted noise.
It increases the listening comfort.
It stores and records data about the environment to be used for programs, volume levels, duration of daily use and other features. This information can be accessed later by the audiologist when returning for a follow-up appointment. It provides them with objective data to customize the hearing aids.
This option frees users from disposable batteries. Using lithium-ion batteries, you can use them for up to 24 hours of performance without worrying about running out of power.
They allow users to make adjustments and monitor the battery life. They give the ability to change the volume of the hearing aids. For example, you want to go to a crowded restaurant. Using the app, you can adjust the levels in a way that makes you feel comfortable.
Who performs hearing aids’ fittings and evaluations?
Audiologists usually perform hearing aids evaluations. A hearing test is performed which helps determine if you have hearing loss. If you need hearing aids, based on your hearing test results, customized hearing aid fitting will be completed. The audiologist will help you find the right hearing aid after recommending an audiogram. They will perform real ear measurements to specify the amplification levels.
Many factors are considered when choosing the right hearing aid:
Severity of hearing loss
How can we take care of our hearing aids?
Taking care of hearing aids ensures keeping them in good condition. Most people can use their same hearing aid device for six to seven years in a row. They don’t need to think of buying a new one. They can just update their existing ones.
Since they are personalized, each patient might end up with a different hearing aid. Not every brand or style suits everyone. It is also very important to mention that it will take time for you to get used to the hearing aids. Having new ones sometimes will also take time, even if you have worn ones before.
Cleaning them regularly, as requested by the audiologist
Keeping them away from extreme temperatures, children, pets and moisture
Avoiding personal care products while wearing them
Turning your hearing aids off when not in use
Replacing dead hearing aid batteries directly
Checking for adjustments and recalibration every once in a while, when having prescription hearing aids
Having your ears and hearing professionally tested and your hearing aids professionally adjusted to suit your needs is the perfect way to hear all the sounds you desire without any complications. Remember, hearing aids don’t completely restore your normal hearing. However, they improve your ability to hear and lead a normal life.