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Choosing the right hearing aid

A hearing aid is a removable medical device that amplifies a specific spectrum of sound frequencies to reduce or correct the disability of a person with hearing loss.

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  • What different types of hearing aids are there?

    There are several types of hearing aids that vary according to the user’s aesthetic preferences, daily needs, budget and degree of disability.

    Signia RIC hearing aid

    Signia RIC hearing aid

    • Behind-the-ear aids: the compartment slides behind the earlobe. The sound is routed from a microphone on the compartment to the ear canal, via a silicone tube connected to an open-fit end or via a wire connected to a microphone inserted in the ear canal (RIC). These devices are visible but are appreciated for their power and sturdiness. There is also a sub-category, mini BTEs, which are smaller but less powerful than standard BTEs. There are different kinds:
      • BTE (behind the ear): these devices are visible but are appreciated for their power and sturdiness. They can be divided into two types: open fit BTE and RIC.
      • Mini BTE: these are smaller than standard BTEs but they are also less powerful. They can be divided into two more specific categories: mini open-fit BTE and mini RIC.
    • In-the-ear aid: these are custom molded and placed directly in the ear canal.
      • ITE (in the ear): these are visible in the ear, easy to handle and have a low risk of being damaged. They are well-suited for people with severe hearing loss or patients looking for an easy-to-use and less fragile device.

        Phonak CIC hearing aid

        Phonak CIC hearing aid

      • ITC (in the canal): these hearing aids are more discreet than the previous ones but have a smaller battery with a shorter battery life. These devices are very powerful but they are more visible than CICs and IICs.
      • CIC (completely in the canal): these devices are manufactured according to the patient’s ear mold and fit completely inside the ear canal. They are discreet and powerful, however they are very fragile.
      • IIC (invisible in the canal): these devices are placed even deeper in the ear, a few millimeters from the eardrum. They are completely invisible and just as fragile.
  • How long does a hearing aid last?

    Like any electronic device, the life span of a hearing aid is limited. Some studies show that they can last between four and five years if used every day. Apart from the battery life, which is replaceable, how long the actual hearing aid lasts will depend on several factors:

    Oticon waterproof hearing aid

    Oticon waterproof hearing aid

    • Frequency of use: Hearing care professionals advise patients to wear them between seven and eight hours a day maximum. Beyond this, they will tend to wear out more quickly.
    • Quality of maintenance: in order to take good care of your hearing aids, it is advisable to avoid exposure to heat and moisture (even if they are supposed to be waterproof) as well as exposure to certain chemicals or cosmetics. It is also important to clean them regularly.
    • Model reliability: this will depend on the manufacturer, the type of hearing aid and the hearing aid options (waterproof, dust resistant, etc.).
  • What are the components of a hearing aid?

    The vast majority of hearing aids consist of the following three components: microphone, processor, receiver.

    • One or more microphones: the microphone is the input of the circuit that picks up sound waves arriving at the patient’s ear and converts them into electrical signals. There are two types of microphone configuration:
      • Omnidirectional system: the microphone will pick up all sound signals regardless of their source. This can be disruptive in a noisy environment such as a restaurant, for example, because the patient’s inner ear will have more difficulty sorting out all these sounds.
      • Directional system: this configuration favors all sound signals coming from the front, i.e. from the interlocutor (or sound source) that the patient is looking at. Noise from the sides and rear will be less audible. This system is advantageous in a noisy environment because it improves comprehension.
    • The processor or amplifier: This microchip is the central element of the hearing aid. It retrieves the electrical signal in digital form from the receiver and processes it according to the characteristics of the device, the adjustments made to the device and the analysis of the sound environment. The processor has three main tasks:
      • Filtering the signal: this means “reducing” or eliminating certain undesirable frequencies and “selecting” “useful” frequencies
      • Amplifying the electrical signal
      • Removing feedback effects
    • Receiver: located at the output of the circuit, it transforms the electrical signal back into a sound wave, making it possible to transmit the sound processed by the device to the wearer’s ear. This part is replaced most frequently on hearing aids because it can be exposed to moisture or earwax, depending on whether it is BTE or in-ear.

    The vast majority of hearing aids are made up of the following three components:

    • microphone
    • processor
    • receiver
  • What type of hearing aid is suitable for what level of hearing loss?

    To answer this question, two parameters must be taken into account: the type of hearing loss and whether it is unilateral or bilateral.

    • Type: Sensorineural hearing loss or conductive hearing loss.
      • Sensorineural hearing loss (referred to as “permanent” hearing loss): This type of hearing loss is mainly due to dysfunction of the inner ear (cochlea) or cochlear nerve. Some sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by the brain center for hearing, but this is very rare. This type of hearing loss is most often permanent and can be corrected by hearing aids or cochlear implants.
      • Conductive hearing loss: This type is less severe than the previous type, and is related to damage to the outer ear (for example, the duct is blocked because of earwax), the eardrum (perforation of the eardrum) or the ossicular chain (in the case of a serous ear infection for example). The patient then has difficulty perceiving low volume and low-pitched sounds, such as low voices or whispers. Sensorineural and conductive hearing loss can also be combined on the same ear, creating mixed hearing loss.
    • Unilateral or bilateral hearing loss: Hearing loss or deafness may affect only one ear (unilateral) and therefore require only one hearing aid. It can also affect both ears (bilateral). In this case it can also be:
      • Symmetrical: affecting both ears with the same intensity. The same type of hearing aid with the same configuration can be used for both ears.
      • Asymmetrical: the level of hearing on one side is stronger than on the other. Two hearing aids should be used and adapted according to the level of hearing loss in each ear.
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