The Ultimate Guide to Hearing Aids and Hearing Loss

Hearing aids are medical devices that are worn either behind or inside of the ear. They are designed to reduce hearing loss symptoms, and to provide relief to patients who have incurred some sort of damage to or infections in their ears. Hearing aids are programmed by healthcare professionals after hearing evaluations. There are many different ways in which hearing loss occurs and not all loss is permanent. Some loss may be treated via other medical procedures.

However, permanent damage cannot be cured. There are various types of hearing losses, which will be discussed later. Hearing aids also offer other benefits, such as treatment to certain illnesses like single-sided deafness. Of course, single-sided deafness, and many other illnesses like it, cannot be cured definitively. However, hearing aids may provide excellent relief to the symptoms of these illnesses. Patients have many factors to consider when determining if they would be good candidates for hearings aids. There exist circumstances that indicate an individual may benefit from these devices. Finally, the types of hearing aids, and their properties, will be discussed at the end.

What is the process by which hearing aids are programmed by healthcare professionals?

Hearing aids are personalized to meet each patient’s needs; no two hearing aids are alike. Even though there are uniform types of hearing aids that act as foundational prototypes, each hearing aid is individualized extensively to ensure the patient has their wants and needs met. Because everyone has different needs, healthcare professionals must program these devices in specific manners. In short, the process for this programming is straightforward. Programming occurs both during and after a thorough hearing evaluation where the healthcare professional gathers data and information regarding the patient’s preferences (Cook n.p.). Factors that can be adjusted include: filtration of background noise, volume, frequency, intensity levels, compression ratios, max power output, noise reduction, and microphone parameters (Cook n.p.). Moreover, the specific programming process entails using some sort of surround sound system to simulate real noise from the outside world to adjust the hearing aids according to real-time feedback.

Regardless of the specifics of the programming, it is important for healthcare professionals to possess the adequate software, hardware, and cables to begin the process. Moreover, these individuals must also determine what specific type of hearing aid is most suitable for the patient. They must consider the demographics of the patient (e.g. age, condition, preferences, etc.). They must also consider the type of technology that is most apt for the needs of the patient. The specifics of each type of hearing aid will be discussed in more detail later in this paper.

How does hearing loss typically occur?

There exist many different reasons for hearing loss to occur. The most typical cause is likely inner ear damage; however, other causes include: an abnormal buildup of earwax, infections, and a ruptured eardrum (“Hearing Loss” n.p.). The risk of inner ear damage increases with age, as older individuals have had more time to experience damaging loud noises. “Aging and exposure to loud noise may cause wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send sound signals to the brain” (“Hearing Loss” n.p.). When this occurs, electrical signals that allow individuals to hear do not transmit as efficiently, causing a loss of hearing. This sort of hearing loss is permanent, and may only be effectively treated with a personalized hearing aid.

Furthermore, a gradual buildup of earwax may cause hearing loss. Fortunately, this loss is only temporary and hearing aids are not necessary. Hearing may be restored via professional earwax removal, or in some cases, manual removal. Additionally, a ruptured eardrum, otherwise known as tympanic membrane perforation, is cause by loud, startling bursts of noise, or poking the eardrum with an object (“Hearing Loss” n.p.). There are many causes of hearing loss, and not all hearing loss is permanent. In fact, some hearing loss may be better treated via some sort of medical process instead of hearing aid installation.

What are the different types of hearing loss?

There are many different types of hearing loss, and they are generally categorized by which part of the auditory system is damaged. Hearing loss may also be categorized by degree of loss, whether the loss is permanent or temporary, and the configuration of the loss. In short, the three primary types of hearing loss are conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, and mixed hearing loss. To begin with, conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not conducted well through the outer portion of the ear canal to the middle ear and eardrum (“Conductive Hearing” n.p.). The symptoms of this type of loss typically include a reduction in sound level and the loss of ability to hear less prominent sounds. There are many different causes for conductive hearing loss, including: fluid in the middle ear from colds, ear infection, tumors, or allergies (“Conductive Hearing” n.p.).

Continuing, sensorineural hearing loss is the most common and the most damaging. It exists when there is damage to the inner ear or to the nerve pathways that connect the inner ear to the brain (“Conductive Hearing” n.p.). This type is permanent, and almost always, it cannot be treated via surgery. The symptoms for this type include the loss of ability to hear faint sounds, and increased muffled sounds. Possible causes include: various illnesses, general aging, head trauma, or long-term drug use (“Conductive Hearing” n.p.). Finally, mixed hearing loss is some sort of combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. With this type, there can exist damage to various parts of the ear.

How can hearing aids treat single-sided deafness?

In general, certain types of hearing aids prove efficacious for treating various other illnesses, such as single-sided deafness. According to Christopher Linstrom, bone-anchored hearing aids produce both short-term and long-term effectiveness in treating single-sided deafness, specifically for the recognition of speech in noise (Linstrom, Silverman & Yu 713). To provide context, single-sided deafness cannot be cured, but certain measures may illustrate the sensation of hearing equally from both ears. Recent research has also demonstrated that other types of hearing aids may assist with this restoration. For instance, certain types of wired and wireless hearing aids, such as contralateral routing of signal, have conveyed positive results in lab settings.

What circumstances call for a person to use a hearing aid?

There does not exist a definitive moment when a person should opt for hearing aids. However, there do exist many blatant symptoms patients may look out for and use to gauge whether they should seek advice from healthcare professionals. For example, according to the Cleveland Clinic, the signs of hearing loss include: frequent complaining of people mumbling, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, preferring the television louder, having difficulty understanding conversations, becoming more impatient or irritable with people, straining to hear conversations, and avoiding social occasions (“Do I Need” n.p.). Hearing aids are able to provide relief to many of these symptoms, and are considerably more advanced today than historically. Additionally, as previously mentioned, some hearing loss is temporary, and hearing may be restored via some short-term medical procedure.

It is also important for individuals to understand that hearing aids do not provide complete treatment to hearing loss. The device will ultimately improve patient conditions, and likely return hearing to a manageable state, but they will not completely eliminate the aforementioned symptoms. There does not exist a foolproof cure to hearing loss. However, as mentioned, some types of hearing loss may not be permanent. These losses may be cured via earwax removal, surgery, or time if the individual has some sort of infection. Many patients are expecting hearing aids to “cure hearing loss” and believe they will return their state of hearing to complete normalcy. However, this is not the case, and it is important to be informed about what the available treatment options can and cannot do.

What sort of damage is appropriate to be treated with amplification?

Amplification is a critical component of hearing aid assistance. In short, amplification is what adjusts the levels of volume of perceived sounds. While there are many different types of hearing aids, the basic components of all hearing aids are a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker. The amplifier specifically adjusts the power of the signals and then sends them to the speaker. The amplifier is the most customizable attribute of the hearing aids. Depending on how severe the patient’s hearing loss is, the healthcare professional can adjust the power of this component accordingly. Amplification is most suitable for patients with permanent, consistent damage to their hearing, though modern hearing aids have adaptable settings and can be adjusted as hearing loss progresses.

What are the different types of hearing aids available?

As mentioned, there are many different types of hearing aids available. Once a person has decided they are a sufficient candidate for hearing aids, they may discuss with their healthcare professional to decide the best device for them. Of course, after they select one type, they will likely need customized features to best treat their condition. Regardless, the basic types of hearing aids include: behind-the-ear (BTE), receiver-in-canal (RIC), in-the-ear (ITE), in-the-canal (ITC), and complete-in-canal (CIC). Behind-the-ear and receiver-in-canal hearing aids are the most common. They consist of a plastic casing that is worn behind the ear. This connects to an ear-mold that sits inside the outer-part of the ear. This type of hearing aid is suitable for individuals of all ages, and they can help treat mild to profound cases of hearing loss.

On the other hand, in-the-ear hearing aids fit entirely inside of the outer-part of the ear, and are typically prescribed for older individuals because their ears are fully developed. Children’s ears are still growing, so this type of hearing aid would not be a sustainable option for them. This hearing aid is great for anybody who needs many customized features added to their devices.

Typically, this type of aid is prescribed for mild to severe cases. Finally, canal hearing aids are used for more moderate forms of hearing loss. These may either be molded to fit the size and shape of the individual’s ear canal, or they may be smaller and hidden within the canal. They are not very powerful, so they are not recommended for individuals with severe hearing loss.

Modern hearing aids function using digital technology. Digital technology is better able to provide greater amplification than older analog hearing aids. Hearing healthcare professionals determine which type of hearing aid and technology is best during the hearing evaluation. At this time, they will also determine what type of hearing aid is best depending on the condition and age of the patient, as well as if the hearing loss may be cured via some other medical procedure instead.

Conclusion

Overall, hearing aids are important medical devices that may treat the very frustrating symptoms of both temporary and permanent hearing loss. As discussed, hearing aids are programmed by healthcare professionals after hearing evaluations. There are many kinds of hearing loss, and it has been established that not all hearing loss is permanent. Some loss may be treated via other medical procedures such as earwax removal or surgery. It has also been seen that there are many kinds of hearing loss. Hearing aids also offer other benefits, such as treatment to certain illnesses like single-sided deafness. Unfortunately, both hearing loss and many other hearing-related illness cannot be wholly cured. However, hearing aids may provide excellent relief to the symptoms of these illnesses. There exist circumstances that indicate an individual may benefit from these devices. Finally, there are many kinds of hearing aids, but it is ultimately up to the discretion of a healthcare professional to determine what is the best move for each patient.

Works Cited

"Conductive Hearing Loss." American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. ASHA, n.d. Web.             09 Mar. 2017.

Cook, Lori. "Home." Cook Hearing and Balance. N.p., 14 Jan. 2015. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

"Do I Need A Hearing Aid? Signs Of Hearing Loss." Cleveland Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar.   2017.

"Hearing loss Causes." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Mar. 2017.

Linstrom, Christopher J., Carol A. Silverman, and Guo-Pei Yu. "Efficacy of the bone-anchored hearing aid for single-sided deafness." The Laryngoscope 119.4 (2009): 713-20. Web.