How Do Hearing Aids Work?

It’s estimated that 28 million Americans have some level of hearing loss. While hearing aids could help many of these people recover functional hearing, research indicates that of all the Americans who could be helped by hearing aids, only a fifth of them wear one. Whether it’s the price, the embarrassment of wearing a hearing aid, or some other reason, many people just do not take advantage of the technology available to help restore their hearing.

The Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing aids can’t help everyone, and to understand why, we have to look at some of the causes of hearing loss. When you hear something, the sound travels into your outer ear and makes your eardrum vibrate. A series of tiny bones in your middle ear carry the vibration on to the “cochlea,” a shell-shaped structure deep within your ear. The sound is then transmitted to your brain, which processes it into noise.

Hearing loss falls into two categories: conductive and sensorineural. With conductive hearing loss, the sound can’t travel through the ear the way it should. Infections, earwax, ear fluid or punctured eardrums can all contribute to conductive hearing loss, which can be treated with surgery in many cases.

With sensorineural hearing loss, the cochlea is damaged. This can happen simply through aging, or it can be the result of infections, head trauma, or long-term fluid buildup. About 90 percent of people with hearing loss have this type, which can be helped by hearing aids.

How Do Hearing Aids Work?

Besides the battery, which provides power, there are three important parts to a hearing aid:

A microphone, which picks up outside sound, turns it into an electrical signal, and sends it to the amplifier
An amplifier, which turns out the volume and sends it to the receiver
A receiver, which turns the electrical signal back into sound and sends it into the ear, which sends the sound on to the brain

With sensorineural hearing loss, the ear is unable to properly transmit sound through the cochlea. The hearing aid does all that work itself. While in most cases it can not fully restore hearing, it can greatly improve it.

Types of Hearing Aids

There are a few different types of hearing aids sold by companies like Miracle-Ear. In general, larger hearing aids are more obvious but are less expensive and have longer battery life, while smaller hearing aids cost more and have less battery power but are good for those who are self-conscious about the devices.

Different types of hearing aids are also available based on how severe the hearing loss is. In the ear, or ITE, hearing aids are very large but work much better for people with more severe hearing loss. Compare this to in the canal, or ITC, hearing aids, which only work for those with mild or moderate hearing loss.

For those who are profoundly deaf, traditional hearing aids will not restore sound. These people, however, may benefit from cochlear implants, which bypass the damaged cochlea altogether and transmit sound directly to the auditory nerve. Many people who have been fully deaf for years have been able to restore their hearing with the help of a cochlear implant.

More than half of the Americans who could benefit from a hearing aid do not use one. Perhaps it is because they just do not know enough about them. Knowing how hearing aids work and what they do may just convince some Americans to take the plunge and work to restore their hearing.

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