There are many types of hearing aids and hearing aid technologies.
They all are high-tech medical devices that interact with other digital devices and offer a variety of features. Hearing aids have proven life-changing health benefits too, because good hearing health is linked to quality of life.
But how do they actually work?
Our own Chief Audiology Officer, Dr. Laurel Christensen, recently spent time with Blake from the Hear Soundly blog to help answer that question. An excerpt of his post is below.
We encourage you to check out Hear Soundly for more real-world perspective, information and reviews directly from someone who wears hearing aids.
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Like most people, I’ve seen lots of hearing aids throughout my life. My grandparents had various pairs throughout the years. Later, members of my immediate family got fitted, and this year I got my first pair. I’ve always understood that hearing aids made sounds louder, but I never fully understood how they work until I began my own hearing journey. In this article, I’ll attempt to break down how hearing aids work, the various types, and some of their features.
I was fortunate to interview Laurel Christensen, Ph.D., the Chief Audiology Officer at GN Hearing, to help with some of my technical questions. GN Hearing is one of the world’s largest hearing aid makers and the creator of ReSound.
The Basics: How Hearing Aids Work
Most hearing aids include at least two microphones that take in the world’s sounds and turn them into digital signals that go to a computer chip inside your hearing aid. That computer chip then analyzes the signals it receives, makes some adjustments, and sends the information to a speaker inside your ear canal. The sound that comes from that speaker is what you ultimately hear.
So let’s break this down into parts.
Hearing Aid Microphones Gather Data
The foundation for a quality hearing aid starts with the microphone system. If you have just one microphone, the hearing aid will have difficulty deciding which direction the sound is coming from and can make noisy situations confusing or overwhelming. Most good hearing aids have at least two microphones. Companies like GN Hearing spend millions of dollars a year experimenting with this part of a hearing aid. ReSound ONE, for example, is a new model of hearing aid that includes three microphones instead of two. While traditional microphones are on the hearing aid body (the part behind your ear), this new mic on the ReSound ONE is actually inside the ear close to the earbud. This extra microphone gives the computer even more data to optimize the final sound.
Digital Signals Sent The Hearing Aid Chip
The next important part of the hearing aid is the chip that receives the sounds from the microphone. The chip takes the mic’s data and runs it through an algorithm to determine which direction the sound is coming from, along with numerous other factors. Ultimately it decides on what sounds will go into your ear.
In my conversation with Dr. Laurel Christensen, she described the work that the hearing aid chip does, “We develop signal processing algorithms for the microchip to process the incoming sound. The algorithms work to amplify soft sounds more than loud sounds, cancel feedback, reduce wind noise, and more. They automatically make adjustments to give you the most natural sound possible as you move about your life.”
The chip is the brain of your hearing aid, and this is where the top of the line hearing aids and good programming from audiologists can make a big difference in your overall experience. One challenge for hearing aid wearers is that this computing system is tough to describe, and descriptions vary by brand. The result is that you may have to try various models or read lots of reviews to figure out which hearing aids have good computers inside of them.
Sound Comes From The Speaker
The final step of the hearing aid process is the speaker. Different hearing aid brands use a range of components to build their speakers, and in some cases, these speakers range in quality. Still, for the most part, this final step is less of a significant factor in your hearing aid experience than the microphone and computer chip.
If you are just getting started on your search for a pair of hearing aids or simply looking for a new pair, I hope this research has given you a bit more insight into how hearing aids actually work. If you have questions or thoughts feel free to leave a comment or you can email me at blake(at)hearsoundly.com.
Hope to hear from you soon!