How Hearing Aids Work

When nearly 1 in 5 people suffer from hearing loss of some sort, it is surprising to see so few people using hearing devices of some sort. Some people simply can't afford them, and others find the aids embarrassing or uncomfortable.  These reasons for avoiding hearing devices could be partially due to not understanding how hearing aids work, or because they are only familiar with the bulky, obvious and screechy devices of the past. Modern aids are much smaller and less screechy. They can fit comfortably inside the ear virtually hidden from site. Current technologies such as:

  • Digital
  • Directional Microphone
  • Telecoil

have improved the strength and filtering abilities of hearing devices, giving the wearer a clearer hearing experience.

To understand how hearing devices work, a basic understanding of how the ear works is needed. The ear is made up of:

  • The Outer Ear - Where sound enters the ear.
  • The Ear Canal - Sound waves travel down the ear canal to vibrate the ear drum.
  • The ear Drum - Vibrates triggering the 3 small bones in the inner ear.
  • 3 Small bones in the inner ear - The Hammer, the Anvil, and the Stirrup carry the vibrations to the cochlea.
  • The Cochlea - The shell shape chamber in the inner ear.

Once sound waves reach the Cochlea, they stimulate hair cells, creating an electric current that transmits to the Auditory Nerve which sends the nerve impulses to the brain.

Hearing devices amplify the vibrations that normally enter the outer ear, and convert them to electronic signals. These devices typically have four parts.

  • The Microphone - collects sound from the environment, converts it to an electronic signal, then sends it to the Amplifier.
  • The Amplifier - magnifies the sound received from the Microphone and sends it to the Receiver.
  • The Receiver/Speaker - converts the electronic signals it receives from the Amplifier back into sound and sends it to the inner ear, where it is forwarded on to the brain.
  • Battery - powers the hearing device.

Although there are different styles of hearing devices, this is the main process of how they work. These types of aids work well for people who have had hearing loss due to the inner ear becoming less sensitive, causing it not to receive and transmit vibrations as easily. By amplifying the sound vibrations with an aid, the sound is able to pass through the weaker part of the ear on to the nerve receptors.

For more severe damage a cochlear implant or a bone-anchored hearing aid may be a better option. Cochlear implants basically take over for the inner ear and convert sound to electronic signals then send those signals on to the brain. Bone-anchored hearing aids attach directly to bone in the middle ear and bypass the ear canal and inner ear stages of hearing. Instead of amplifying sound, they create vibrations via the bone and transmit those vibrations directly to the cochlea with a process called direct bone conduction.

Science has brought hearing devices a long way from the bulky, hook around the ear models of past generations. With these innovations, has also come more affordable pricing and more customized products. There is no reason to be embarrassed by wearing a hearing device any longer and cost should no longer be a prohibitive factor, with insurance covering many more options and manufacturers seeing the need to deliver these devices at an affordable cost.

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