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Types of Hearing Aids

behind-the-ear hearing
aids (BTE)
in-the-ear hearing aids
(ITE)
in-the-canal
(ITC)
completely-in-the-canal
(CIC)

Experience shows that, when faced by the problem of hearing loss for the first time, many people put off their visit to the doctor and avoid using a hearing aid. They suffer terrible discomfort, try to conceal their failure to understand  other people’s speech. A kind of invisible psychological barrier prevents them from using a device that would be able to release them from this problem. This can be partially explained by the fact that many people even nowadays think of a hearing aid as a kind of an ugly “excrescence” on an individual’s ear. In addition, many patients don’t believe that a hearing aid is able to compensate for their lost ability to hear.

Every person suffering from a hearing loss must know that such ideas are outdated: due to the achievements of scientific and technological progress, hearing aids have acquired streamline contours and skin colour, and the latest models of in-the-canal aids are totally invisible to other people. But the most important feature of the ultra-modern hearing aids is their “smartness”. These aids are actually tiny but powerful computers capable of adjusting to various sound sources (cell phone, human voice, music, TV sound etc.). Almost in every case when the impaired hearing cannot be recovered surgically, it can be adequately compensated by means of a hearing aid. However, that is possible only if the hearing aid is correctly chosen and tuned.

Modern hearing aids fall into two major groups – behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE) and in-the-ear hearing aids (ITE). Behind-the-ear hearing aids (BTE) are the most widely used hearing aids. The case of such aid is fitted behind the user’s ear and secured by means of a special hold. To improve transmission of sound to the eardrum BTE hearing aids are used together with individual earmoulds. Most hearing aid centers have their own otoplastic laboratories specially equipped for producing earmoulds and improving them if necessary.

In-the-ear hearing aids (ITE) are fitted completely inside the auricle. These are more compact than BTE aids and they are custom made for the patient on the basis of his ear impression. That’s why ITE hearing aids are more comfortable to use and less evident to other people. Another advantage of ITE hearing aids is that, fitted right in the auricle, they are able to transmit the amplified sounds immediately to the patient’s eardrum, making the simulation of auditory perception more realistic.

One of the latest achievements in hearing aid development is the creation of ITC (in-the-canal), HS (half-shell) and CIC (completely-in-the-canal) hearing aids. These hearing aids are tiny but powerful devices placed in the patient’s ear canal and absolutely invisible to other people.

Most modern hearing aid models are programmable. A specialist can easily program such a hearing aid (and, if necessary, change its program), customizing it to the user’s needs. Some of the programmable hearing aids have the function of switching between a number of pre-tuned programs. If the patient’s aid is fitted with such a switch, he will be able to choose a program of sound amplification depending on the acoustic environment.

Recent studies have shown that bilateral hearing impairment can be efficiently helped only by means of binaural correction - that is, by wearing aids on both ears. Binaural hearing aids make the process of sound transmission as close to natural auditory perception as possible. That is especially important for better recognition of quiet speech, as well as in difficult acoustic situation (for example, with a lot of noise). Binaural correction helps to achieve enhanced speech understanding even with the hearing aid set at lower volume. It also makes sound perception with the help of a hearing aid less tiresome and facilitates the identification of the sound source and direction. Another advantage of binaural correction is its ability to compensate for the difference in hearing loss if the patient can hear with one ear better than with the other one.

The correct choice of a hearing aid as well as its tuning and programming is a task feasible only for a skilled specialist. In order to identify the degree of the patient’s hearing loss an audiologist carries out a special test called pure tone audiometry (PTA). The result of this test is presented in the form of an audiogram produced for every ear separately. That is a diagram representing the ear’s ability to detect sounds of different frequencies and at different volume. Basing on the PTA results, the doctor decides what hearing aid (or aids) will be most appropriate for the hearing loss correction in this specific case.

Before consulting a specialist or a company providing audiological services you should make sure that they have an audiology license. Your choice of the audiologist will largely predetermine whether the use of a hearing aid will be comfortable and efficient or not. Besides, after your start using your hearing aid you may also need professional help in maintenance and tuning.

No matter what hearing aid you choose, don’t forget that you are going to need a certain skill of using it to compensate the hearing loss efficiently. You will have to learn to hear all over again – learn to detect the source and the direction of the sound, distinguish important sounds from unimportant ones.  It takes a hearing-impaired person some time and patience to get used to the peculiarities of this new way of auditory perception. The success of a hearing aid user on his way to the recovery of the lost ability largely depends on the people around him. They should remember that this process may be connected with many difficulties and show enough patience and consideration.

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