Overview of Hearing Aids

An estimated 35 million children and adults in the United States have a hearing loss. For these people, selecting the most suitable hearing aids can be vital to enjoying life to its fullest. Less than 25% of all people who need hearing aids actually get them. Most people don't realize that the majority of hearing losses can be treated with hearing aids.

Untreated hearing loss can cause embarrassment, social stress, tension, and fatigue. This is true not only for the person with the hearing loss but also for family members, friends, and colleagues. New research suggests an association between hearing loss and dementia—another reason to have a hearing evaluation if you suspect a hearing loss. In the case of children, untreated hearing loss can affect school performance and social development. To learn more about this topic, please visit our page on the Effects of Hearing Loss on Development.

Approximately 5% to 10% of adult hearing problems are treatable medically or by surgery. The percentage is higher in children if middle ear disease, such as ear infection, is the cause. If a hearing evaluation indicates that the condition cannot be medically or surgically treated, additional testing may be done to determine whether hearing aids will be beneficial.

If you have hearing loss, an audiologist certified by ASHA (holding the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology, or CCC-A) can find the best type and model of hearing aid for you. If you have hearing loss in both ears, the audiologist may recommend that you use two hearing aids. Wearing two hearing aids:

  • Helps in localizing the direction of sounds
  • Improves listening in noisy situations
  • Provides better overall hearing

The audiologist will provide you with the recommended hearing aid(s) and/or other hearing assistive devices and will instruct you in their use. To find a certified audiologist near you, please use our ASHA ProFind tool.

Do I need medical clearance before buying hearing aids?

Federal and state regulations may require a medical evaluation and clearance from a licensed physician prior to the purchase of a hearing aid. Ask your audiologist about these regulations, especially if you receive Medicare benefits.

Are all hearing aids the same?

Hearing aids differ in design, size, the amount of amplification, ease of handling, volume control, and availability of special features. However, they do have similar components that include the following:

  • Microphone to pick up sound
  • Amplifier circuitry to make the sound louder
  • Receiver (miniature loudspeaker) to deliver the amplified sound into the ear
  • On/off switch and batteries to power the electronic parts

Some hearing aids also have earmolds (earpieces) to direct the flow of sound into the ear and enhance sound quality. In the case of children, the earmold will need to be replaced fairly often as the ear grows.

The best hearing aid for you depends on your listening needs, type of hearing loss, and lifestyle. Your audiologist will advise you on which of the basic hearing aid styles and features best meet your needs and their related costs.

What else will I need to know about my hearing aids?

When evaluating and discussing hearing aid options with your audiologist, make sure you learn how to:

  • Obtain maintenance and repairs
  • Use special features (such as the “T” circuit, volume control, and program remote controls)
  • Determine if a hearing aid is functioning properly

What if I buy hearing aids and can't adjust to using them?

Laws in most states require a trial period for all hearing aid sales. Most audiologists provide a trial period, even if it is not required by law. If you decide to cancel your purchase during this trial period, there may be a nonrefundable fitting/restocking charge for professional services and your custom earmold. You should discuss these policies with your audiologist prior to purchase.

You may choose to try a different make or model if the first choice is not satisfactory. Hearing aids do not restore normal hearing but do offer substantial benefit to most persons with hearing loss.

Will hearing aids help me hear better on the telephone or in public places?

Depending on your hearing loss, hearing aids typically help make speech over the telephone clearer. If you are on the telephone a lot, consider getting hearing aids with the “T” (telecoil) circuits described above. Telephone sounds are amplified more efficiently and background noises are better eliminated with a telecoil circuit. You should know that only some cordless telephones or cell phones work well with hearing aids.

Will hearing aids eliminate all my communication problems?

With hearing aids, you will hear some sounds you have not heard previously or sounds you have not heard in a long time. At first, background noise may seem loud and distracting. Your own voice may sound louder.

It can take several weeks or months to become adjusted to listening with your hearing aids. Your audiologist will provide hearing aid orientation for you as well as hearing (audiologic) rehabilitation as needed. Hearing rehab will enable you to communicate more effectively using your hearing aids.

Are there other hearing devices that will help me hear with or without my hearing aids?

Hearing aids are very helpful in one-on-one situations, but sometimes they are not enough. A hearing assistive device can help you function better in your day-to-day communication situations.

Hearing assistive devices are available for use with or without hearing aids. These devices provide extra help in specific listening situations, such as listening:

  • Over the telephone
  • With noisy backgrounds
  • In small or large group listening settings (such as restaurants, concert halls, and movie theaters)
  • At a distance from the sound source

So, even though you have a hearing aid or implant, hearing assistive devices can enhance your communication experience. Your audiologist can advise you about any assistive technologies that might be of value.

Things to Remember

Hearing loss doesn't have to restrict life activities. Properly fitted hearing aids with appropriate communication strategies can help in many listening situations. The step-by-step approach below will help you determine whether hearing aids can improve your hearing:

  • Consult an ASHA-certified audiologist (holding the CCC-A) for an audiologic evaluation and determination of need for medical referral.
  • Get a professional hearing aid candidacy evaluation from the audiologist. Purchase the recommended hearing aid(s). Pay attention to:
    • Trial period
    • Sales contract
    • Warranty information
    • Features and benefits
    • Maintenance and repair
  • Attend follow-up care orientation and rehabilitation.
  • Ask about other hearing assistive devices that will work with the hearing aid(s) to improve hearing in difficult or large-area listening situations.
  • Report problems you are having with communication. Your hearing aid(s) might need a simple adjustment.
  • Receive regular audiologic follow-up care to help you with adjustment to the hearing aid(s) and monitor any changes in your hearing.

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