Ask an Audiologist: How Exactly Do Hearing Aids Treat Hearing Loss?

Hearing aids are essential tools for millions of individuals with hearing loss.

Ask an Audiologist: How Exactly Do Hearing Aids Treat Hearing Loss?

Ask an Audiologist: How Exactly Do Hearing Aids Treat Hearing Loss?

Hearing aids are essential tools for millions of individuals with hearing loss. They are sophisticated devices designed to improve hearing by amplifying sound. We know that these devices can be a crucial part of daily life, allowing people with hearing impairments to engage more fully in conversations and enjoy sounds that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.

Hearing aids achieve this through a process that involves capturing sound, converting it to digital code, processing and amplifying the signal, and then delivering the sound to the ears. The goal is to make speech and other sounds clearer and louder, tailoring amplification to the specific hearing loss profile of the user. Technology in hearing aids has advanced significantly, with digital hearing aids now allowing for customized settings suited to varying environments and preferences. These settings are generally programmed by an audiologist following a thorough hearing assessment.

Fundamentals of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are comprised of several key components that work in tandem:

  • Microphone: Picks up sound from the environment.
  • Amplifier: Enhances the strength of the sound signals.
  • Speaker (Receiver): Delivers the amplified sound into the ear canal.
  • Battery: Provides power to the device.

How Hearing Aids Amplify Sound

The process of sound amplification in hearing aids is relatively straightforward yet sophisticated. Here's what takes place:

  • Sound intake: The microphone receives sound waves and converts them into digital signals.
  • Sound processing: The digital signal is then processed by the amplifier, where it's customized to the user's hearing loss profile.
  • Sound output: Finally, the speaker emits the tailored sound into the ear canal, making it audible to the user.

Understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss affects our ability to perceive sound and can significantly impact our daily interactions and quality of life. It's imperative that we understand its underlying causes and the types of hearing loss to effectively address this condition.

Causes of hearing loss vary widely and can range from environmental factors to biological causes. Excessive noise exposure is a common environmental factor that can lead to hearing damage. Occupations with high noise levels or recreational exposure to loud music contribute significantly to noise-induced hearing loss. Biological factors include age-related wear and tear, infections, and ototoxic medications that negatively affect our hearing abilities. Genetics also play a crucial role, as some forms of hearing impairment are hereditary.

Types of Hearing Loss

Each type of hearing loss requires a specific approach to treatment, and understanding these distinctions is key to managing hearing impairment effectively.

  • Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SNHL): This is the most common type of hearing loss, occurring due to damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. Causes of SNHL include aging, exposure to loud sounds, infections, and certain diseases.
  • Conductive Hearing Loss: Occurs when sound waves cannot properly travel through the outer and middle ear to the inner ear. Possible causes include ear infections, fluid in the middle ear, earwax blockage, or a perforated eardrum.

Hearing Aid Fitting and Customization

When we address hearing loss with hearing aids, a successful outcome hinges on meticulous fitting and thoughtful customization of the devices based on individual needs.

Audiological Assessment

Our hearing's unique profile necessitates a comprehensive audiological assessment, a cornerstone of hearing aid fitting. In this assessment, we determine the specific characteristics of your hearing loss by evaluating:

  • Threshold of hearing for various frequencies, identifying how soft sounds can be before they become inaudible.
  • Speech recognition ability to understand how well you can comprehend speech at different volumes and in varying conditions.

This data informs the customization of your hearing aids, ensuring they're tailored not just to a prescription, but to your everyday life.

Personalization of Hearing Aids

Once your hearing profile is clear, we move on to the personalization of hearing aids. By personalizing hearing aids this way, we can vastly improve your auditory experience and consequently, your quality of life. This process involves:

  • Selecting appropriate hearing aid styles, such as completely in the canal (CIC) or behind-the-ear (BTE) models.
  • Customizing the physical fit with earmolds made from materials like silicone for a comfortable and secure fit.
  • Programming the device's digital settings to the precise amplification requirements of your hearing profile, reflecting the data gathered during the audiological assessment.

Hearing Aids Improve Communication 

Hearing aids are primarily designed to improve speech comprehension. This is done by amplifying sounds, particularly in the range of human speech, which allows users to better engage in conversations and receive auditory information that was previously unclear or inaudible. Although hearing aids amplify sound, some hearing loss may still remain, which underscores the importance of a personalized fitting by an audiologist, ensuring the device is tuned to the user's specific hearing profile.

Hearing Aids Enhance Quality of Life

The use of hearing aids extends beyond improved communication; they bolster numerous aspects of life leading to enhanced overall quality of life. For instance, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that nearly 36 million adults in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss, with hearing aids serving as a valuable tool to mitigate the social, emotional, and psychological effects that often accompany hearing impairment. Individuals with hearing aids generally find it easier to participate in social activities, experience less fatigue and frustration during conversations, and report higher levels of contentment and safety, as they're better equipped to perceive important sounds and warnings in their environment.

Hearing Aids from an Audiologist

When considering hearing aids, it is crucial to involve an audiologist in the process. As healthcare professionals with a doctorate in audiology, they specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing loss, which is a medical issue requiring attentive care.

Initial Examination: An audiologist conducts a comprehensive hearing assessment to determine the specific type and degree of hearing loss. This evaluation is essential to ensure that the hearing aid is tailored to our individual needs.

Personalized Selection: With a variety of hearing aid styles, such as the completely in the canal models, the audiologist is instrumental in helping us select the appropriate device, considering factors such as:

  • Level of hearing loss
  • Lifestyle requirements
  • Aesthetic preferences

Technical Expertise: The audiologist's expertise is also vital in programming the hearing aid. Modern devices offer multiple listening programs to manage background noise effectively. The adjustment of these settings ensures that we receive sound quality that is conducive to our environments, whether quiet or noisy.

Follow-up Care: Lastly, ongoing follow-up care with an audiologist ensures that we continue to benefit from our hearing aids. Routine check-ups allow for necessary adjustments and maintenance, maximizing hearing aid performance over time.

Get Fitted with the Latest Hearing Aid Technology

When considering the integration of hearing aid technology into our lives, the first step to take is scheduling a hearing test. At Greentree Audiology, we provide comprehensive hearing tests in St. Louis and surrounding areas. Your audiogram, the results of your hearing test, is key to understanding your current hearing abilities and establishing the right course for your hearing health. If hearing loss is detected, integrating these technological marvels into your daily life can empower you to engage more fully in the world around you, ensuring that hearing loss is no barrier to living a full and active life. To consult with an audiologist, contact us today. 

John Scarlas was born in Tampa, Florida and raised in Beckley, West Virginia. He received his Bachelor of Science from West Virginia University in 1995, and he received his Master’s degree in Audiology from Towson University in 1997.

Doctor of Audiology
Sherry Pickett, Doctor of Audiology
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