How Hearing Aids Work
Hearing aids are small very sophisticated technological devices that do exactly what they say. They aid in hearing. Hearing aids cannot restore lost hearing but they can help you make the most of the hearing you have.
There are many types and models of hearing aids made by many companies. But they all basically have the same parts and work in the same way.
Parts of a Hearing Aid
Hearing aids have three parts: the microphone, the amplifier and the speaker.
The microphone works like any other microphone. It picks up sounds and converts them into electrical signals. It is like a converter, it converts sounds into a signal that can be understood by the amplifier.
Just like in music equipment, the amplifier takes the converted signal from the microphone and increases it or makes it louder.
The speaker is like a mini-transmitter. Its job is to take the amplified signal and send it to the cochlea. The cochlea has hair cells (which aren’t hair at all) that convert the signal into neural signals for transmission to the brain. When the brain gets the neural signal it processes it and you “hear” the sound
Hearing Aid Technology
Gone are the days of the ear trumpet. Modern hearing aids are electronic and not mechanical devices. They all handle electrical signals. But, there are major differences in the way those electrical signals are processed. Older hearing aids use analog technology. Newer hearing aids utilize digital technology.
• Analog: Analog technology is the original electronic hearing aid technology. Analog devices transmit signals without changing the signal. In other words, analog devices don’t enhance or clarify sounds. They just pick up the signal, amplify it, and send it to the hair cells. The audiologist gives programming directions to the manufacturer when the hearing aids are ordered. These hearing aids come with different settings for different environments. This is because they cannot modify signals. Hearing aids using analog technology usually cost much less than hearing aids.
• Digital: Digital technology is a major improvement over analog technology. Digital hearing aids have a highly specialized microphone. This microphone not only picks up a signal but it breaks it down into a series of 1s and 0s that computers use to communicate. The signal that is sent to the amplifier includes the sound as well as information about the sound. The amplifier can detect problems in transmission and filter them out before sending them on to the cochlea. Because it is using computer language, your audiologist will program it. They can be programmed for special handling of specified tones or pitches. This means your audiologist can program them to your exact needs. If your hearing loss is not consistent across all frequencies, this represents a major improvement over analog technology. Newer technology generally comes with a higher price tag. However, most hearing aids sold today utilize digital technology.