Hearing aids are small devices that are worn in or behind one or both ears to make sounds louder. A hearing aid may correct a conductive hearing loss to a normal or near-normal level if it is caused by a malformation of the middle or outer ear. For a significant sensorineural hearing loss, a hearing aid may help but will not bring hearing back completely.
Hearing aids come in many sizes, shapes, and styles. Some fit in the outer ear or ear canal and are for mild to severe hearing loss. Others fit behind the ear and are attached to a plastic ear mold that goes inside the outer ear. These hearing aids are for people with mild to profound hearing loss. Some people with profound hearing loss use a body aid. This is a larger hearing aid that is attached to a belt or put in a pocket and connected by a wire to the ear.
A hearing aid is made up of:
The electronic mechanisms in hearing aids can be analog or digital. More advanced analog aids can be programmed by the wearer to accommodate different sound environments. Digital aids use a computer chip and provide even more flexibility in different environments. However, they are the most expensive type of hearing aid.
It can take time and patience to get used to a hearing aid because things sound different. Some people need to try more than one hearing aid to find one that works well for them.
An assistive listening device (ALD) is any kind of device that can help you in your communication activities. It can be used with or without hearing aids to deal with problems of background noise, distance, or poor room acoustics.
Some examples of ALDs include:
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help provide sound to a child or adult with a severe hearing loss. It is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear. This device picks up sounds through a microphone, processes them, converts them into electrical impulses, and transmits them past the damaged or nonworking parts of the inner ear to the brain. The microphone and transmitter are worn in a headpiece just behind the ear, and the sound processor is placed in a pocket or on a belt. The receiver and electrode system are implanted.
A cochlear implant does not create or bring back normal hearing. However, it can help many people understand their environment and speech and communicate fully in person and over the telephone. The amount it can help depends on a number of factors, including how long you have had hearing loss, age at hearing loss and at implant, how quickly you learn, and the health and structure of your cochlea.
The decision to have an implant should be made with medical specialists, such as an otolaryngologist, which is a surgeon specializing in ear, nose, and throat conditions. The procedure involves some risk of complications, as does any surgery, and is expensive. It also takes time and patience to learn to understand sounds from the implant.
The Esteem system is used to treat sensorineural hearing loss in adults. It attaches to the middle ear bones. Like the cochlear implant, this is another type of device that is implanted behind the ear. Esteem consists of three parts:
Lip reading, also called speech reading, involves paying close attention to how a person’s mouth and body are moving when they talk to help you understand what they are saying. Special trainers can assist you in learning how to do this.
American Sign Language (ASL) is the most common form of sign language used in the United States. It uses signs made with the hands, facial expressions, and other body movements. ASL is a separate language from English with different rules for grammar, punctuation, and sentence order. There are other types of sign language that are based on English, such as spelling out English words with hand signs.
American sign language. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/asl.aspx. Updated June 2011. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Cochlear implants. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/coch.aspx. Updated March 2011. Accessed September 18, 2013.
FDA clears Envoy's Esteem hearing aid. Mass Device website. Available at: http://www.massdevice.com/fda-clears-envoys-esteem-hearing-aid. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Hearing aids. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/hearingaid.aspx. Updated April 2007. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Hearing assistive technology. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/treatment/assist_tech.htm?print=1. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Hearing loss and older adults. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/older.aspx. Updated February 2012. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Hearing loss. NIH SeniorHealth website. Available at: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/hearingloss/hearinglossdefined/01.html. Accessed September 18, 2013.
What is a cochlear implant? US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/CochlearImplants/ucm062823.htm. Accessed September 18, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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