Hearing loss is a national crisis affecting approximately 48 million Americans, primarily those 65 and older. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that more than 30% of adults between the ages of 65 and 74 suffer from hearing loss. That estimate increases to 50% for people 75 and older. If left untreated, hearing loss can contribute to problems with social interactions and low self-esteem, with many researchers linking losses to depression and cognitive decline.
The objective for people suffering from hearing loss becomes correcting that loss, resolving and postponing any potential adverse effects loss can promote. The remainder of this article will focus on understanding hearing loss, learning about hearing aids, and identifying the best hearing aid styles for everyday use.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Some forms of hearing loss are a natural part of aging, but others stem from exposure or hygiene problems. However, all types of hearing loss can be categorized into three groups:
- Conductive loss
- Sensorineural loss
- Mixed loss
Conductive hearing loss is not as common as other forms and can often be repaired through surgical or medical intervention. This loss typically occurs because of a physical blockage or malformation, such as an ear infection or impacted earwax.
Sensorineural hearing loss is more common and is often the result of natural aging; however, it can also stem from chronic or habitual exposure to loud music or noises. The loss occurs because of damage to the inner ear hair cells, responsible for transmitting soundwaves to the brain; unfortunately, damage to these cells is irreversible.
Finally, mixed loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Age can lead to natural deterioration of hair cells in the inner ear, and it can lead to wax buildup or poor self-care, resulting in infections or blockages.
How Hearing Aids Work
Hearing aids do not reverse hearing loss, but they do amplify sound, making it easier for those with difficulty hearing to participate in conversation and activities. The device uses a speaker, microphone, and amplifier that rest behind or in your ear. While these devices can help people hear more clearly in all environments, only about one in five people with hearing loss use them.
The 5 Types of Hearing Aids for Everyday Use
Whatever your lifestyle, there is likely a hearing aid style that will suit your needs. There are five main hearing aid types on the market today, but each offers its pros and cons.
Behind-the-ear models, or BTEs, provide a snug and customized fit. While more visible than other models, BTEs can be great options for people of any age group but are particularly excellent hearing aids for children because of the ease of cleaning and the design. Because these aids rest comfortably and securely around the back of the ear, feedback noise is significantly reduced or eliminated.
Mini-behind-the-ear, or mBTE, devices go by many names; some acronyms include RIC, CRT, RITA, and RITE. A critical difference between BTEs and mBTEs is where the receiver sits. The mBTE receiver rests in the ear canal, meaning the device’s life is shorter than other BTE models. However, the size and configuration mean a more comfortable fit and a less visible design.
Traditional In-the-Ear Models
Traditional in-the-ear devices, or ITEs, rest entirely in the bowl of the outer ear. ITEs provide more room for components, such as directional microphones, wireless streaming, and telecoils. Some wearers find these hearing aids less cumbersome than BTEs but more visible; however, the design is easier to insert and wear comfortably.
When looking for hearing aids for athletes, you might want to consider in-the-canal, or ITC, models. These small aids fit securely in the ear canal, making them less susceptible to dislodging or falling off during activity. However, ITCs are not appropriate for long time use because the battery life is short, the receiver is vulnerable to ear wax, and many people consider ITCs uncomfortable. Aside from those drawbacks, the device is nearly invisible because it sits deep in the canal.
Completely-in-the-Ear Hearing Aids
If looking for a hearing aid with a reputation for seeming invisibility, look no further than a completely-in-the-canal, or CIC, device. The CIC hearing aid sits deep in the ear canal, recessed so far that it can only be removed with a removal string. Because of the CICs positioning, the aid is less sensitive to wind background noise. Unfortunately, the device’s size does not allow for a directional microphone, and the battery size is tiny, making battery life minimal. Because of its small size, the aid is often challenging to adjust and handle, so consideration is necessary for older or younger wearers with less dexterity.
Hearing loss is a crisis, but more troubling is many people suffering from the condition do not seek the assistance they need. By refusing to wear or even consider hearing aids, these people are at a greater risk of depression and other issues brought about by isolation. If you or a loved one are affected by hearing loss, consider one of the above devices, each suitable for everyday use.