ColumbiaDoctors audiologists work closely with patients to improve their hearing. Our audiologists provide ongoing support, which continues beyond simply fitting hearing aids, to ensure patients are receiving maximal benefit and satisfaction from their devices.
What is a Hearing Aid?
Hearing aids use advanced digital technology to help people with hearing loss by improving audibility for sounds that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Hearing aids are small, battery-powered devices made of the following basic parts:
- Microphone: receives sound from various directions
- Digital Sound Processor: processes and adjusts the incoming signals to the wearer’s prescription
- Amplifier: increases the volume of the signals
- Speaker/transducer: reproduces the altered sounds for the listener
Hearing aids are available in many different sizes, styles and colors. Once a hearing aid is prescribed, it is customized for the user based on the audiogram, sound tolerance, and comfort of the individual.
Choosing the Right Hearing Aid
At ColumbiaDoctors, we view the hearing aid as a rehabilitation device. Our audiologists will help you decide which make, model, and style is best for you by taking into consideration your hearing loss, communication needs, lifestyle, physical abilities, financial concerns, personal preferences, and self-image. Audiologists utilize both evidence based research and extensive clinical experience to help you make the best choice.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are two parts to behind-the-ear devices; one part sits behind the ear and one part goes in the ear canal. A narrow tube or wire connects the two parts.
- Receiver-in-the-canal/Receiver-in-the-ear (RIC/RITE): The components are housed in the case which is seated behind the ear. The speaker goes in the ear canal and is connected to the device by a tiny wire. The prescribed sound is produced directly into the ear canal. A RIC/RITE is cosmetically appealing and can be successfully prescribed for many hearing losses.
- Traditional Behind-the-ear (BTE): These devices provide the most power and connectivity options. A tube hooks over the front of the ear connecting the behind the ear piece to a custom made earmold. BTEs are best for people with severe to profound hearing loss. BTE aids are also the preferred choice for young children as they are compatible with FM devices and "grow" with the child.
Custom-molded hearing aids are formed using 3D printing technology to fit the patient’s ears. Custom devices are recommended depending on the size and shape of the patient’s ear, and the demands of the hearing loss. Not all patients can have “invisible” devices when the ear canal is very small or narrow, or when the hearing loss is too severe.
- Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) is one of the smallest custom products. It provides audibility for adults with mild to moderately severe hearing loss. For some models, a remote control may be used to vary loudness or access internal programs.
- Invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) is the smallest custom hearing aid. It is worn deep in the ear canal, making it virtually invisible. It provides audibility for adults with mild to moderately severe hearing loss.
- In-the-canal (ITC) and In-the-ear (ITE) extends from the ear canal to the ear opening, and into the bottom of the ear entrance above the ear lobe. It can be easier to handle for some people with dexterity concerns, and can allow for the addition of specific features, such as volume control or a venting channel. ITC and ITE are suitable for mild to severe hearing loss.
Additional types of hearing aids
- Bone Anchored Hearing Devices can be worn using a headband (for children) or can be surgically placed. They work with an external sound processor and use vibrations to transmit sound. This type of device is used to treat conductive and mixed hearing loss as well as single sided deafness. Bone anchored hearing solutions that are available are BAHA, Oticon Ponto, and Medtronic Sophono.
- Earlens Hearing Aid is a new type of hearing aid that provides a wider range of sound frequency by utilizing light energy. A small custom fitted lens is placed on your eardrum to directly activate your natural hearing system. An external processor sits behind the ear, much like in a traditional hearing aid.
Hearing aid manufacturers offer features and accessories that provide solutions for specific situations that pose challenges to hearing impaired persons. These features are optional and vary, depending on the make, model, and level of technology of the hearing aid. Features include wireless interface with Bluetooth-compatible devices such as cellphones and televisions, rechargeable batteries, remote controls, telecoils for listening in equipped public venues, environmental noise control, directional microphones, and variable programming. Our audiologists recommend features suitable to each patient’s particular hearing needs.
While some insurance plans provide a benefit to help cover the cost of hearing aids, many others, including Medicare, have no hearing aid benefit at all. This creates significant challenges for patients, audiologists, and institutions committed to the aural rehabilitation of hearing impaired persons. Our audiologists present fitting options with your budget in mind while striving to maintain a high standard of care. We encourage our patients to become well informed of their insurance plan benefits and exclusions.
If a patient has hearing aids that were purchased at another facility, our audiologists are available to program, troubleshoot, and help ensure that patients are getting the most benefit from their hearing devices.