Published 2012-07-20 (Rev. 2015-12-21) -- Information pertaining to types and models of hearing aids including Bluetooth compatible devices.
Author: Thomas C. Weiss - Contact: Disabled World
Definition: Defining the Meaning of Hearing Aid
Hearing Aid - An electro-acoustic device which typically fits in or behind the wearer's ear designed to amplify and modulate sound for the wearer. Similar devices include the bone anchored hearing aid, and cochlear implant.
Bluetooth - A proprietary open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short-wavelength radio transmissions in the ISM band from 2400-2480 MHz) from fixed and mobile devices, creating personal area networks (PANs) Bluetooth networking standard works at two levels: 1 - It provides agreement at the physical level - Bluetooth is a radio-frequency standard. 2 - It provides agreement at the protocol level, where products have to agree on when bits are sent, how many will be sent at a time, and how the parties in a conversation can be sure that the message received is the same as the message sent.
People who experience a loss of hearing might be considering obtaining hearing aids, yet are concerned about how they will look. They may wonder if a hearing aid will truly help them. Knowing more about the options related to hearing aids that are available can help, such as what to look for when purchasing hearing aids and how they may interact with electronics, easing some concerns.
Every hearing aid has the same parts to carry sound from your environment into your ear. There are a number of styles of hearing aids; however, and they come in different sizes and differ in the way they are placed in your ear. Some hearing aids are small and fit inside of your ear canal, while other only fit partially in your ear canal. Usually, the smaller the hearing aid, the less powerful it is, the more it will cost, and the shorter its battery life is.
Types of common hearing aid styles include completely in the ear canal aids, as well as in-ear canal hearing aids molded to fit inside a person ear canal to improve mild to moderate hearing loss in adults. Hearing aids that fit completely in a person's ear canal offer the following features:
- Less-likely to pick up wind noise
- Least noticeable in a person's ear
- Easy to use with phones most of the time
- Do not have extra features such as directional microphones or volume control
- Use smaller batteries, although they usually do not last as long as larger batteries
Hearing aids that are in-the-canal and custom molded, fitting party in a person's ear canal yet not as deeply as a completely in-the-canal hearing aid, can improve mild to moderate hearing loss in an adult. These hearing aids present users with some different features:
- Are easy to use with a phone
- Might not fit well in smaller ears
- Are less visible in a person's ear
- Include features that will not fit on aids that are completely-in-the-canal, although the small size may make the features hard to adjust
A smaller version of the in-the-canal hearing aid exists referred to as the, 'half-shell.' A half-shell hearing aid is custom molded and fills the lower portion of the bowl-shaped area of a person's outer ear. The style can be used by people who experience mild to moderately severe hearing loss and have some features of note:
- Fit the majority of people's ears
- Are larger than an in-the-canal hearing aid
- Are a bit easier to handle than hearing aids that are smaller
- Include more features such as volume control and directional microphones
Hearing aids referred to as, 'full-shell,' are ones that are custom made and fill the majority of the bowl-shaped area of a person's ear. They are helpful for people who experience mild to severe hearing loss. Full-shell hearing aids offer people features which include:
- Are more visible
- Might pick up wind noise
- Are often times easier to insert in a person's ear
- Have more features such as easier to adjust volume control
- Use bigger batteries that are easier to handle and usually last longer
Hearing aids that fit behind a person's ears, hooking over the top of their ears and resting behind their ears, pick up sound and amplify it. They carry the amplified sound to ear molds that fit inside the person's ear canals. These hearing aids are useful for people who experience all forms of hearing loss and come from any age group.
Behind-the-ear hearing aids have a couple of notable features. They are capable of more amplification than other types of hearing aids, for example. Behind-the-ear hearing aids are also the largest and most visible type of hearing aid, although newer versions are more streamlined, smaller and less noticeable.
'Open fit,' hearing aids are ones that are usually very small behind-the-ear style aids, although larger behind-the-ear aids may be modified for a more open fit. Sound travels from the hearing aid through a small wire or tube to a tiny speaker or dome in a person's ear canal. The hearing aids leave the person's ear canal open and are best suited for people who experience mild to moderate high-frequency losses, where low-frequency hearing remains between average and near average. Open fit hearing aids have features such as:
- Are less visible
- Might use very small batteries
- Do not plug a person's ear as small in-the-canal hearing aids do
- Many times do not have manual adjustments because of their small size
Electronics and Hearing Aids
Hearing aid electronics control the way sound is transferred from a person's environment to their inner ear. Every hearing aid amplifies sounds, making them louder so a person can hear them better. The majority of hearing aid manufacturers have switched to producing only digital hearing aids, meaning that analog hearing aids are being phased out.
Digital technology uses a computer chip that converts incoming sounds into digital code, analyzing and adjusting the sounds based upon a person's hearing loss, listening needs, and the level of the sounds in the person's environment. The signals are converted back into sound waves and delivered to the person's ears. The resulting sounds are more finely tuned to the person's particular hearing loss.
There are some various hearing aid options that can improve a person's ability to hear in different situations. Digital hearing aids offer people the ability to use new and exciting types of technologies with the hearing aids they have. Bluetooth technology is one of these types of technologies, although there are certainly other types.
Remote Controls: Digital hearing aids may provide people with the ability to use a remote control that adjusts the volume or other changes without even touching their hearing aids. The person's remote might make additional adjustments as well, such as increasing noise reduction, or activating a directional microphone.
Directional Microphones: Directional microphones are ones that are aligned on a person's hearing aids to give them improved pick up of the sounds that are coming from in front of them while providing a reduction of sounds that are coming from behind or beside them. The technology improves a person's ability to hear when they are in an environment with a lot of background noise.
Telephone Adapters: Telephone adapters are a form of technology also referred to as, 'telecoils,' that make it easier for people to hear while they are talking on the phone. Telecoils eliminate the sounds in a person's environment, picking up only the sounds coming from the phone. Some hearing aids automatically switch when the phone is held up to the person's hearing aid; others require a person to flip a switch. Bear in mind that telecoils only work with phones that are compatible with hearing aids.
Some hearing aids have the ability to transmit sounds from Bluetooth devices such as cell phones that are Bluetooth-compatible. Hearing aids with Bluetooth capability need an interface that wirelessly picks up a Bluetooth signal from Bluetooth-compatible devices; they transmit the signal to the person's hearing aids. Using this type of technology, people do not even have to hold a phone to their ear or hearing aid in order to have a conversation, for example. In another example, people can listen to music directly through their hearing aids using Bluetooth-compatible devices - this writer is at the moment.
From this writer's perspective, Bluetooth technology is simply a, 'must-have,' feature. While writing this article music has been pouring through my hearing aids via a streamer around my neck and the Mac Mini computer that is Bluetooth-compatible. Last night the sound from a movie I was watching (Hancock) also came directly through my hearing aids via a small TV box that is Bluetooth-enabled and the streamer around my neck.
Bluetooth technology allows a person's hearing aids to wirelessly communicate with other devices, to include the hearing aid in the person's other ear, a cell phone, a computer, a TV, or a digital music player. Choosing the best Bluetooth hearing aid requires attention to detail because you have to take a close look at the features it offers while picking the right hearing aid for your particular needs.
While technology is constantly moving towards smaller components, hearing aids that are Bluetooth enabled still come with a separate transmitter. People have to wear the transmitter in order to facilitate wireless communication between their hearing aids and other devices they are using. The transmitter might be worn around the person's neck (such as the one this writer uses), or kept in their pocket or on a belt. When you are shopping, take into consideration the size of the transmitter, as well as where you will wear it. You will have to turn the transmitter on when you want to use the Bluetooth function with most types of Bluetooth hearing aids.
Bluetooth Hearing Aids and Noise in the Environment
Bluetooth hearing aids transmit sounds directly through a person's hearing aids. What this means is the sounds do not have to come through the microphone. Because of this, some types of hearing aids will turn off the microphone while a person is using their hearing aids as they listen to a Bluetooth connection, something that can make it hard to hear other things that are going on around them. Conversations; for example, or a television can be difficult to hear because of this feature. As an audiologist told me as recently as yesterday - Bluetooth technology has yet to be perfected.
Setup and Issues Related to Bluetooth Technology
Electronics might not automatically give a Bluetooth signal; you may need to set them up to communicate with Bluetooth. The majority of technologically advanced electronics such as new cell phones and computers usually have Bluetooth technology built into them. Older electronics probably will need an additional device so you can use your phone, television, computer, or other electronic item you want to be Bluetooth-compatible. A hearing aid provider will also have a link to your Bluetooth transmitter for your hearing aids and can show you how to use them.
Hearing aids that are Bluetooth-equipped, particularly ones with the latest technology, are usually pretty expensive. It is important that you look into what your health insurance covers - not only when you go to buy your hearing aids, but also when you need to repair or replace them. You need to pay close attention to the care of your hearing aids and keep track of your transmitter, something you need to have with you for Bluetooth functionality to work.
Technology related to hearing aids really is advancing dramatically. The ability to wirelessly connect to not only your phone, but with nearly any kind of electronic device that creates sound, is truly wonderful. The sound Bluetooth technology provides makes it easier to enjoy audio experiences with other people without having to blare the sound, or live with feedback or sound that is fuzzy in your hearing aids.