Losing your hearing can make it difficult to communicate with those around you. It can also impact how you enjoy and live your life.
There are numerous treatment options for hearing loss to help improve hearing.
One of the most effective and easiest solutions for people dealing with sound loss is hearing aids.
Hearing aids help amplify sound waves and transmit them to parts of the ear that can send them to the auditory nerve.
We’ll explore how hearing works, the different types of hearing loss, and which hearing aids are most helpful for continued hearing care.
What Is Hearing Loss?
Your ears have three distinct parts that work together to create the sounds you hear.
Understanding how your ears work with your brain to interpret sound can help you understand how hearing devices work and which type of hearing aid will work best for your specific type of hearing loss.
The Parts of the Ear
The ear comprises three parts; the outer, middle, and inner ear.
- Outer. The outer ear includes the pinna (the part of the ear you can see) and the ear canal.
- Middle. The middle ear consists of the eardrum and the three tiny bones of the ear, called the malleus, incus, and stipes.
- Inner. The inner ear consists of a shell-shaped cochlea, tiny hair cells that sit inside the cochlea, the semicircular canals, the vestibular nerve, and the auditory nerve.
The Process of Hearing
The pinna collects sound waves and sends them to the eardrum via the ear canal.
The sound waves vibrate against the eardrum, which vibrates against the bones of the middle ear.
These bones amplify the sound waves and cause the fluid inside the cochlea to begin moving.
The tiny hair cells inside the cochlea begin to move and interact with neurons that change the sound waves to electrical signals.
These signals travel down the semicircular canals and to the auditory nerve.
The auditory nerve sends the electrical signals to the brain, and the sound waves originally collected by the pinna are interpreted as sound.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
There are numerous common causes of hearing loss, the most common of which is prolonged exposure to loud sounds.
Loud noise is usually considered any noise that registers over 70 decibels.
Other causes of hearing loss include:
- Impulse sounds (like fireworks, gunshots, or saws)
- Trauma from accidents or injuries
- Diseases and illnesses
- Genetic abnormalities within the structure of the ear
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
Hearing loss can result from one of these factors or a combination of them.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
Different types of hearing loss are determined by the part of the ear that is affected.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
When a portion of the inner ear is damaged or compromised, your hearing loss is sensorineural.
Age-related hearing loss, for instance, is a type of sensorineural hearing loss that results from damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear.
Other causes of sensorineural hearing loss can be diseases, genetic abnormalities, and prolonged exposure to loud noise.
Conductive Hearing Loss
When hearing loss occurs due to an issue with the outer or middle ear, your hearing loss is said to be conductive.
This hearing loss may only be temporary and can result from a buildup of earwax in the ear canal or a blockage in the ear canal that requires removal.
Conductive hearing loss can also result from injury or trauma to the ear or recurrent ear infections.
Bilateral Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can affect both ears. When it does, it is called bilateral hearing loss.
Most age-related hearing loss or sound loss due to prolonged exposure to sounds is bilateral.
Unilateral Hearing Loss
Hearing loss that only affects one ear is called unilateral hearing loss. Most commonly, unilateral hearing loss occurs due to an injury, trauma, or a blockage in the ear canal.
This means that most cases of unilateral hearing loss is conductive hearing loss.
What Are the Degrees of Hearing Loss?
Normal hearing uses a scale of hearable decibels.
This means that your hearing loss is determined by the decibels you can no longer hear.
For example, a person with normal hearing should be able to hear sounds that register -15 to 20 decibels or louder.
A slight hearing loss refers to a person who can only hear sounds that measure 16-25 decibels or louder. From here, we develop a baseline for hearing loss.
- Mild Hearing Loss. A person with mild hearing loss can hear sounds that reach 26 to 40 decibels.
- Moderate Hearing Loss. You have moderate hearing loss if you can only hear sounds that reach 41 to 55 decibels or louder.
- Severe Hearing Loss. Severe hearing loss constitutes the loss of ability to hear sounds below 71 to 90 decibels.
- Profound Hearing Loss. Someone with profound hearing loss has lost almost all hearing ability and is typically considered deaf. The sounds must reach 90 decibels or above.
The type of hearing assistance you need is typically determined by the level of your hearing loss and your type of hearing loss.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Being unable to hear as well as you once could isn’t the only symptom of hearing loss. Other symptoms of hearing loss can include:
- Trouble picking up conversations with the presence of background noise, or the inability to hear in noisy places
- Asking others to repeat themselves
- Not being able to hear certain consonants, like F, S, and H, when another person is speaking
- Needing the volume turned up on media sources like the television or radio
- Turning down social invitations and becoming more withdrawn
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
If you suspect you are suffering from hearing loss, you should contact your healthcare provider or go directly to a doctor who specializes in audiology.
An audiologist can diagnose a hearing loss through a series of tests.
Normally, you’ll take a hearing test called an audiogram, which measures how many decibels of sound you can no longer hear.
Once your hearing loss has been diagnosed, you will likely be referred to a hearing professional to discuss options for treatment.
One of the most popular treatment options is high-quality hearing aids.
What Types of Hearing Aids Exist?
Hearing aid technology has changed over the years. If you’re concerned that they’ll be noticeable, you should know that most hearing aid models are extremely discreet and can significantly improve your hearing health and wellness.
Regardless of your income or insurance, numerous hearing aid style options are available at different price points, making them available to a wider section of hearing aid users.
There are two main categories of hearing aids: in-the-ear (ITE) and behind-the-ear (BTE).
In-the-Ear Hearing Aids
In-the-ear hearing aids sit completely inside the ear or ear canal and do not have parts outside or behind the ear.
There are several different styles under this category.
Invisible In-the-Canal (IIC)
These hearing aids are placed directly in the ear canal and are virtually invisible.
Unlike completely-in-the-canal (CIC) models, these don’t usually require a customized fitting, meaning you can purchase them directly from the hearing aid manufacturer.
Signia offers extremely low-profile IIC and ITC hearing aids that do not require a custom fitting.
In-the-Ear (ITE) With Earmold
Some hearing aids inside the ear do not sit in the ear canal. These are in-the-ear or ITE hearing aids.
These can still be low-profile but are slightly more visible.
Phonak brand hearing aids offer customized models in the ear, so you’ll need to be fitted for them.
This usually involves making an earmold that will be custom fitted to the exterior of your ear canal so your new hearing aids fit comfortably.
Behind-the-Ear Hearing Aids
Hearing aids that sit behind the ear usually also have a part that sits inside the ear called the receiver. There are several models in this category also.
Sometimes called receiver-in-canal (RIC), these hearing aids sit behind the ear, are barely visible, and have a small receiver that sits inside the ear or ear canal.
Kirkland offers an affordable option, but you must have a Costco membership to purchase them. For non-Costco members, Widex offers another RITE option at a similar price.
Behind-the-Ear With Earmold
Models that do not have a receiver in the ear still have an earmold that sits inside the ear.
These styles are typically larger than others and more noticeable but may also offer a higher level of hearing improvement.
Some of the best brands and models that offer BTE with earmolds are Oticon More, Starkey BTE, and ReSound One.
Other Hearing Aid Features
Hearing aids do more than give you sound amplification.
They are also very useful tools with features that allow you to simplify the way you live and communicate.
Virtually all hearing aid brands offer at least one model that has Bluetooth connectivity.
This feature lets you easily connect to your Android, iPhone, or other Bluetooth-enabled devices to make communicating easier and enjoy the benefits of devices that offer Bluetooth streaming, such as hands-free calling.
Bluetooth compatibility is available on many Eargo hearing aid models, including the Eargo 6, which also features a two-year warranty, one of the longest warranties in the industry.
Most hearing aids offer noise reduction and feedback cancellation, dramatically improving sound quality for the wearer. However, certain brands are specifically designed to block out these noises.
ReSound One offers hearing aids that have rechargeable batteries and eliminate the need to swap out small batteries. Hearing aids with batteries can be troublesome.
Rechargeable hearing aids charge in their case, similar to the way AirPods charge in a charging case.
They offer up to 30 hours of continuous use from three hours of charging.
Compared to some hearing aids that only have a battery life of three days, this can be a much easier way to manage your hearing care.
Hearing loss involving tinnitus can make it difficult to hear and frustrating to sit in silence.
Some hearing aids specifically target tinnitus by offering soothing tones or chimes played randomly to help break up tinnitus buzzing and ringing.
The Widex Moment is a model that is specifically designed with these features.
A telecoil or “t-coil” is a device that contains an amplifier that helps separate and amplify voices in particularly noisy environments.
This can be especially helpful if your level of hearing loss causes you to miss conversations in crowded places.
Where Can I Buy Hearing Aids?
Many retailers offer hearing aids, and you’ll need a prescription from your doctor to get them.
However, the FDA has recently approved over-the-counter hearing aids, which do not require a prescription or even a diagnosis of hearing loss.
Remember that these may not offer the correct level of hearing correction you need, and they may not be as low-profile as invisible hearing aids. You’ll need to follow up with your doctor or audiologist for a customized fit.
Part of maintaining your hearing health is protecting the hearing you currently have.
You can do this by ensuring you get regular hearing assessments and wearing hearing protection when exposed to loud noise.
For more information and to find out more about hearing loss and treatment options, check out the Hearing Loss Info Center on the USA Rx blog.