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Devices for hearing loss

If you are living with hearing loss, you know that it takes extra effort to communicate with others.

There are many different devices that can improve your ability to communicate. This can help reduce stress for you and those around you. These devices can improve your life in numerous ways.

  • You can avoid becoming socially isolated.
  • You can remain more independent.
  • You can be safer wherever you are.

Hearing aids

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that fits in your ear or behind it. It amplifies sounds so that you are better able to communicate and participate in everyday activities. A hearing aid has three parts. The sounds are received through a microphone which converts the sound waves into electric signals that are sent to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the strength of the signals and transmits them into the ear through a speaker.

There are three styles of hearing aids:

  • Behind-the-ear (BTE). The electronic components of the hearing aid are contained in a hard plastic case that is worn behind the ear. It is connected to an ear mold that fits into the outer ear. The ear mold projects sound from the hearing aid into the ear. In the newer style open-fit hearing aids, the behind-the-ear unit doesn't use an ear mold. Instead it is connected to a narrow tube that fits into the ear canal.
  • In-the-ear (ITE). With this type of hearing aid, the hard plastic case holding the electronics fits completely inside the outer ear. ITE hearing aids may use an electronic coil called a telecoil to receive sound rather than a microphone. This makes hearing over the telephone easier.
  • Canal hearing aids. These hearing aids are made to fit the size and shape of the person's ear. Completely-in-canal (CIC) devices are mostly hidden in the ear canal.

An audiologist will help you choose the proper device for your hearing needs and lifestyle.

Assistive Listening Devices

When many sounds are all mixed together in a room, it is harder to pick up the sounds you want to hear. Assistive technology helps people with hearing loss understand what is being said and communicate more easily. These devices bring certain sounds directly to your ears. This can improve your hearing in one-on-one conversations or in classrooms or theaters. Many listening devices now work through a wireless link and can connect directly to your hearing aid or cochlear implant.

Types of assistive listening devices include:

  • Hearing loop. This technology involves a thin loop of wire that circles a room. A sound source such as a microphone, public address system, or home TV or telephone transmits amplified sound through the loop. The electromagnetic energy from the loop is picked up by a receiving device in the hearing loop receiver or a telecoil in a hearing aid.
  • FM systems. This technology is often used in classroom. It uses radio signals to send amplified sounds from a small microphone worn by the instructor, which is picked up by a receiver that the student wears. The sound can also be transmitted to a telecoil in a hearing aid or cochlear implant by way of a neck loop the person wears.
  • Infrared systems. Sound is converted in to light signals which are sent to a receiver that the listener wears. As with FM stems, people who have hearing aids or an implant with a telecoil can pick up the signal via a neck loop.
  • Personal amplifiers. These units consist of a small box about the size of a cell phone that amplifies sound and reduces background noise for the listener. Some have microphones that can be placed near the sound source. The enhanced sound is picked up by a receiver such as a headset or earbuds.

Alerting Devices

Alerting devices help make you aware of sounds, such as the doorbell or a ringing phone. They can also alert you to things happening nearby, such as a fire, someone entering your home, or your baby's activity. These devices send you a signal that you can recognize. The signal may be a flashing light, a horn, or a vibration.

Devices for the Telephone

There are many tools that can help you listen and talk on the telephone. Devices called amplifiers make sound louder. Some phones have amplifiers built-in. You can also attach an amplifier to your phone. Some can be carried with you, so you can use them with any phone.

Some amplifiers are held next to the ear. Many hearing aids work with these devices but may require special settings.

Other devices make it easier to use your hearing aid with a digital phone line. This helps prevent some distortion.

Telecommunication relay services (TRS) allow people with severe hearing loss to place calls to standard telephones. Text telephones, called TTYs or TTDs, allow the typing of messages through a phone line rather than using voice. If the person on the other end can hear, the typed message is relayed as a voice message.

References

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Assistive devices for people with hearing, voice, speech, or language disorders. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/assistive-devices-people-hearing-voice-speech-or-language-disorders. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2019.

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) website. Hearing aids. www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing-aids. Updated March 6, 2017. Accessed June 16, 2019.

Stach BA, Ramachandran V. Hearing aid amplification. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 162.

  • Hearing loss

    Animation

  •  

    Hearing loss - Animation

    We often take for granted all of the sounds around us, the bark of a dog, the buzz of a bee, or the melody of our favorite symphony. Yet for many people, the world is a very quiet place. They've lost the ability to hear sounds in one or both ears. Let's talk about hearing loss. To understand how you lose hearing, you first need to know what normally happens inside your ear when you hear. Say that a fire engine roars past. First, the sound of the siren reaches your eardrum in your outer ear. Your eardrum vibrates, which moves three tiny bones in your middle ear. These bones push the sound along to the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber in your inner ear. The cochlea is lined with tiny hairs that vibrate when the sound waves hit them. These hairs convert the sound waves into an electrical signal. That's when your brain realizes that a fire engine is headed toward you. Hearing loss can have many different causes. Loud noises, pressure changes while you're scuba diving, or a head injury can all damage the delicate structures in your ear that allow you to hear. Infections like measles, mumps, and meningitis can also damage the ear. Sometimes earwax can build up in your ear and block your hearing like a plug. As you get older, you may gradually lose your hearing, even if you don't have an illness or injury. When the damage or other problem is to your outer or middle ear, it's called conductive hearing loss. For example, your eardrum may not vibrate when you hear sound. Or, the tiny bones in your middle ear may not move sound to the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear. Often it's because the tiny hair cells that move sound through the ear don't work right because of damage or disease, and stem cells in the ear can't keep up with the repair. If you have problems with both your inner and outer ear, then you have mixed hearing loss. So, how do you treat hearing loss? If you're noticing that voices sound fuzzy and you can't make out what people are saying, see your doctor for a hearing test. The doctor will examine your ears, and give you a test called audiometry to check the type and amount of hearing you've lost. You may also have imaging tests such as a CT or MRI scan if you've had a head injury. A hearing aid can amplify sounds to help you hear more clearly. Today's hearing aids are so small they're barely noticeable. If you have a buildup of earwax in your ear, an ear syringe filled with warm water can help flush it out. Sometimes surgery can be done to fix damage in your ear and improve your hearing. Don't accept hearing loss as an inevitable part of growing older. See your doctor for a hearing evaluation. Often, hearing loss that's due to a problem in your outer or middle ear can be reversed. Protect the hearing that you do have by avoiding loud noises, and wearing earplugs when you have to be exposed to loud sounds.

  • Hearing loss

    Animation

  •  

    Hearing loss - Animation

    We often take for granted all of the sounds around us, the bark of a dog, the buzz of a bee, or the melody of our favorite symphony. Yet for many people, the world is a very quiet place. They've lost the ability to hear sounds in one or both ears. Let's talk about hearing loss. To understand how you lose hearing, you first need to know what normally happens inside your ear when you hear. Say that a fire engine roars past. First, the sound of the siren reaches your eardrum in your outer ear. Your eardrum vibrates, which moves three tiny bones in your middle ear. These bones push the sound along to the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber in your inner ear. The cochlea is lined with tiny hairs that vibrate when the sound waves hit them. These hairs convert the sound waves into an electrical signal. That's when your brain realizes that a fire engine is headed toward you. Hearing loss can have many different causes. Loud noises, pressure changes while you're scuba diving, or a head injury can all damage the delicate structures in your ear that allow you to hear. Infections like measles, mumps, and meningitis can also damage the ear. Sometimes earwax can build up in your ear and block your hearing like a plug. As you get older, you may gradually lose your hearing, even if you don't have an illness or injury. When the damage or other problem is to your outer or middle ear, it's called conductive hearing loss. For example, your eardrum may not vibrate when you hear sound. Or, the tiny bones in your middle ear may not move sound to the inner ear. Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a problem in the inner ear. Often it's because the tiny hair cells that move sound through the ear don't work right because of damage or disease, and stem cells in the ear can't keep up with the repair. If you have problems with both your inner and outer ear, then you have mixed hearing loss. So, how do you treat hearing loss? If you're noticing that voices sound fuzzy and you can't make out what people are saying, see your doctor for a hearing test. The doctor will examine your ears, and give you a test called audiometry to check the type and amount of hearing you've lost. You may also have imaging tests such as a CT or MRI scan if you've had a head injury. A hearing aid can amplify sounds to help you hear more clearly. Today's hearing aids are so small they're barely noticeable. If you have a buildup of earwax in your ear, an ear syringe filled with warm water can help flush it out. Sometimes surgery can be done to fix damage in your ear and improve your hearing. Don't accept hearing loss as an inevitable part of growing older. See your doctor for a hearing evaluation. Often, hearing loss that's due to a problem in your outer or middle ear can be reversed. Protect the hearing that you do have by avoiding loud noises, and wearing earplugs when you have to be exposed to loud sounds.

    Self Care

     
     

    Review Date: 5/22/2019

    Reviewed By: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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