Medical Grade Hearing Aids
A hearing aid is an electronic device designed to help people with hearing loss in one or both ears. Hearing aids come in all different shapes and sizes and can be worn either inside or behind the ear. It makes some sounds louder allowing the user to listen better, communicate more easily, and participate more in normal daily activities. Hearing aids are also really good at helping people hear better in both quiet and loud environments.
There are many kinds of hearing aids out there, some over-the-counter options, and other devices that may seem like a hearing aid, but are actually just personal sound amplification devices (PSAPs) instead. Read on to learn more about them and discover which may be right for you!
How Do Hearing Aids Work?
Hearing aids are a medical marvel. They are made up of three basic parts, a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. In digital hearing aids, sound travels into the hearing aid through the microphone, which then converts the sound into an electrical signal. An analog hearing aid increases the size of the original sound wave. In both digital and analog, the amplifier then takes the electrical signal or larger soundwave, increases its power, and then sends it into the ear through the speaker.
Digital hearing aids also come with multiple listening programs giving the user flexibility to choose a setting that suits their current needs best. Settings include hearing in a space with a lot of background noise, as well as where there is no background noise at all. Depending on the hearing aid, the setting will change automatically or needs to be manually changed by the person wearing it. Some even come with remote controls to make program selection easier.
Some hearing aids come with only a single microphone. There are others that have directional microphone abilities. This means there are usually two microphones within the hearing aid, one directed at picking up the source of the sound, for example, a friend talking in a crowded restaurant, while the other microphone is set to pick up background sound and decrease the volume to facilitate hearing.
Types of Hearing Aids as Classified by the FDA
Up until recently, there was only one kind of hearing aid, Medical Grade Hearing Aids. But as of August 2022, the FDA has also approved the use of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. These OTC hearing aids can be purchased directly from stores or online retailers. They do not require a medical exam, prescription, or fitting by an audiologist.
Hearing Aid Styles
Hearing aids have really come a long way since they were first invented at the end of the 19th century. There are a variety of styles and sizes designed for different levels of hearing loss.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids are made of a hard plastic case that houses all the electronic parts and is worn behind the ear. The case is connected to a plastic earmold that fits inside the outer ear. Sound travels from the hearing aid through the earmold and into the ear. BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss.
- There is also a newer kind of BTE considered an “open-fit” hearing aid, known as a receiver-in-canal (RIC) hearing aid. This has the same plastic case housing the electronic components behind the ear but uses a narrow tube in the ear canal instead of an earmold. This allows the ear canal to remain open, which is helpful for people who experience earwax buildup. Some prefer open-fit hearing aids because the perception of their voice sounds more natural to them.
- In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are used for those experiencing mild to severe hearing loss. They come in two styles, one that fills most of the outer ear, and one that fills only the lower half of the ear. This style of hearing aid is only recommended for adults as they are custom-made for each ear, and getting new ones every time a child outgrew theirs would be a costly endeavor.
- In-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are similar to ITEs in that they are custom-made and fit inside the ear with no casing behind the ears. They are best suited for those with mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
- Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) hearing aids fit completely in the ear canal, so they are barely visible. They are also custom-made and are best for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss.
- Completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aids are designed for adults with mild to moderate hearing loss. They are also custom-made and molded to fit inside the ear canal, which makes them almost imperceptible.
Some hearing aids may come with additional features, like a telecoil, a small magnetic coil that allows wearers to receive sound through the hearing aid’s circuitry rather than the microphone. Certain public spaces, like auditoriums, churches, schools, or airports, have special sound systems called induction loop systems. Hearing aids with the telecoil may connect to the loop directly, allowing the user to hear better, which is especially useful in large group settings.
Difference between Medical-Grade Hearing Aids VS Over-the-Counter (OTC) Hearing Aids
Although at first glance OTC and medical hearing aids look exactly the same, there are some important differences to consider.
- Medical-grade hearing aids are designed to address all kinds of hearing loss, from mild to profound. OTC hearing aids can only be used for mild to moderate hearing loss.
- Medical-grade hearing aids require an examination, and a prescription, and must be fitted by a hearing care professional. OTC hearing aids will be available for purchase in stores, pharmacies, and online, without the need for a medical exam.
- OTC hearing aids can be adjusted by the user, whereas medical-grade hearing aids must be adjusted by a hearing care professional, like an audiologist.
- One thing to note is that adjusting hearing aids takes time and patience. This means that for those who decide to go for OTC hearing aids, it may take more than one attempt to get the right setting. The important thing is to be patient and of course, to go see a hearing care specialist like an audiologist if you’ve tried everything and it still doesn’t work.
- OTC hearing aids will most likely cost much less than medical-grade hearing aids.
Benefits of Using Medical-Grade Hearing Aids
Because medical-grade hearing aids are medical devices, they require a prescription to purchase. While this may seem like an inconvenience, it also means they are better suited to address your needs. OTC hearing aids are more of a one-size-fits-all approach, whereas medical-grade hearing aids are made for you.
In fact, medical-hearing aids are significantly more customizable. For starters, they are designed to address your specific needs, which means different settings and programs can be made tailored just for you. You can choose from different volumes, and frequencies, as well as styles, sizes, and colors. Medical-grade hearing aids can also be used to address unilateral hearing loss or hearing loss in just one ear. That type of fitting requires a nuanced approach that only an audiologist can help with.
Finally, getting medical-grade hearing aids means developing a relationship with a hearing care professional in the long run. The audiologist who first fits you for your hearing aids will meet with you periodically to make sure everything is working as planned. Developing a relationship like this can be extremely helpful in preventing any issues down the line, as they will be familiar with your history and be able to provide expert insight into your hearing needs.
It’s important to remember that hearing aids will not cure hearing loss, but in time they will help you hear better in multiple settings. While it will take time to get used to hearing aids, with practice and regular use they will become second nature to you. If you believe you may be experiencing hearing loss, visit an audiologist to see what’s going on. They will be able to perform all the necessary tests to uncover the best solution for your needs.