The Ultimate Guide to Hearing Loss & Hearing Aids
Whether you have hearing loss or not, it's important to know the basics about hearing loss, how hearing aids work, and how to choose a hearing aid. This information can help you connect with family members and friends or learn more about yourself.
When it comes to hearing loss and hearing aids, there’s a lot of misinformation. Hearing loss doesn’t just happen to the elderly, and hearing aids don’t have to be big and unsightly. Hearing loss doesn’t always manifest as deafness, and not everyone with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. The more you learn about hearing loss and how it works, the better you can understand your own situation or the experiences of those around you.
There’s a lot to learn about hearing loss, and there are new discoveries being made every year. If you’re not sure where to start, this guide will tell you the basics about hearing loss, hearing aids, and hearing care professionals. From there, you can move forward and begin your own research!
What is Hearing Loss?
As implied by the name, hearing loss is when someone’s sense of hearing is negatively affected. This might be due to ageing, noise exposure, illness, or a genetic issue. There are a few different kinds of hearing loss, and they can have different impacts on those that suffer from them. Most types of hearing loss are permanent, while others might be temporarily caused by allergies, earwax blockages, and even tumours.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three main types of hearing loss: sensorineural, conductive, and auditory neuropathy. These affect people in different ways, so someone with sensorineural hearing loss might have very different experiences from someone with conductive hearing loss. Mixed cases also exist, where someone suffers from more than one type of hearing loss.
Conductive hearing loss is characterised by a blockage or problem with the middle ear. Earwax, fluid buildup, and blockages can stop soundwaves from reaching the inner ear, causing hearing loss. Bone growths and tumours can also cause conductive hearing loss. However, many of these cases can be solved, and the person can return to normal hearing.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves the nerves within the inner ear. The cochlea is lined with hair cells, which help you determine the volume and frequency of what you’re hearing. If these cells are damaged, permanent hearing loss occurs. This is the most common form of permanent hearing loss and can happen to anyone.
Auditory neuropathy refers to the nerve that sends sound to the brain. After soundwaves are picked up by the ears, they’re sent to the brain for processing. However, if the nerves that send these signals are damaged, hearing is compromised. Certain illnesses can lead to auditory neuropathy, and it can occur in children.
Mixed hearing loss usually refers to cases that involve both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. While the conductive aspect of their hearing loss can often be cured, sensorineural hearing loss requires other treatments.
Hearing Loss Causes
Depending on the type of hearing loss and the person experiencing it, the causation can change. For example, a young person who has been deaf since birth probably suffered from an illness as a child or was born that way. Meanwhile, someone who has slowly lost their hearing over time probably has sensorineural hearing loss due to ageing or noise exposure.
That being said, here are some of the most common causes of hearing loss.
Ageing. As we get older, our senses begin to slip. Many people begin using glasses as they age, and others begin wearing hearing aids. It’s natural.
Noise exposure. When you work in construction, serve in the military, or attend lots of concerts, you’re more at risk of hearing loss than someone who does none of those things. Putting too much stress on your ears can seriously affect how well they work over time.
Genetics. It’s nearly impossible to predict exactly how genetics will affect children. Some children are born without the ability to see or hear, and it’s important to accept that aspect of them.
Illnesses. Certain illnesses can cause hearing loss, especially if they are experienced as an infant or child. Adults can also lose their hearing due to infections.
How to Prevent Hearing Loss
Hearing loss prevention is not always a simple task. Some types of hearing loss cannot be prevented, only treated and alleviated. The sound of tinnitus can be blocked out, and hearing aids can help people hear in new ways.
The most common form of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, can be prevented to some extent. Wearing earmuffs and earplugs during concerts, car races, and other loud situations is important. If you or a loved one works in a loud environment, make sure they’re wearing proper protection as well. While hearing loss can affect anyone, those who protect themselves are better off.
How Do Hearing Aids Help You Hear?
Hearing aids are the front-line treatment for hearing loss, especially sensorineural hearing loss. They can be used to treat hearing loss of the mild to profound variety, and there are many different types of hearing aids to accommodate different people. However, hearing aids do more than allow people to hear better. Newer features make them important devices for those with tinnitus, and studies show that the use of hearing aids can reduce the risk of dementia in elderly wearers.
The concept of hearing aids is simple: they capture and amplify soundwaves so the cochlea can work properly. From there, wearers can more easily process sound. Speech understanding is improved, and they don’t have to work as hard to listen to the world around them. Many people with hearing loss complain of fatigue and mental exhaustion. This is because they are constantly straining to hear, even subconsciously. This puts stress on the brain, making them feel tired and worn-out.
With hearing aids, much of that struggle isn’t necessary.
Types of Hearing Aids
While some cases of hearing loss cannot be alleviated by hearing aids, most people with hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. However, misconceptions about hearing aids lead many people to forego getting fitted. They might feel that hearing aids are too clunky or won’t match with their self-image. While hearing aids used to be much larger, current technology has allowed them to achieve smaller sizes and more appealing design.
There are multiple types of hearing aid. Each has its own benefits, and certain types of hearing aid might help some people more than others. It’s up to you and your hearing care professional to choose the one that works for you. Let’s go over the primary types of hearing aid.
Behind-the-ear, or BTE. BTE models are some of the most common, due to their versatility and wide range of functions. Aptly-named, they sit behind the ear, and a thin clear tube enters the ear. They are easy to remove, clean, and repair, and come in a variety of styles.
Receiver-in-the-canal, or RIC. They sit comfortably behind the ear while – unlike with a BTE – the RIC’s loudspeaker or “receiver” is located at the end of a thin ear-wire, producing a superior listening experience with less energy consumption. Some models, like Signia’s new Styletto Connect, are fashioned to look like expensive tech or ear jewellery. They work for mild to moderate cases of hearing loss.
In-the-Ear and In-the-Canal, or ITE & ITC. These are more suitable for severe hearing loss and fit snugly in the ear or ear canal. While they are visible from the side, they can be personalised or camouflaged according to the wearer.
Completely-in-the-Canal, or CIC. These are ultra-small hearing aids that sit almost completely within the ear. They are nearly invisible and work well for those who don’t want their hearing aids to be seen.
Certain types of hearing aid might not work for you, depending on the severity of your hearing loss. A trained audiologist will be able to give you insight on what hearing aids you can use, and what might be best for you. If you’re interested in seeing examples of current models and their accessories, Signia has a lineup of many different kinds of hearing aids.
If you don’t already have a hearing care professional on your side, want to recommend a visit to one, or wish to switch providers, it’s important that you find someone you can trust. HCPs will help with every step of the selection, buying and fitting of the hearing aids along with adjustments, repair and cleaning afterwards. The process of finding an HCP is easier with help, and the Signia Store Locator uses GPS to help you find trained professionals near you.