Note from Tammy: There is so much information out there about hearing aids and no shortage of questions. It can be very difficult to muddle through all the information to figure out what are the best hearing aids for you. Our research tells us that people wait on average 7 years to get a hearing aid after they’ve been told they need one. I believe this is, in part, due to the overload of information. Hopefully, I can help clear a few things up!
Digital Hearing Aids vs Analog Hearing Aids
Q: My friend has an analog hearing aid but when I ask around all I hear about are digital hearing aids. What does it mean to have a digital hearing aid? How do I know which is best for me? – Adam from Billings, Montana
A: Almost all hearing aids produced today are digital. If you look at the evolution of hearing aids they started out as analog circuits. However, over the years the digital hearing aids have taken over. Having a hearing aid be “digital” indicates a more sophisticated circuit as well as a more flexible circuit. It also means that it can be programmed (and reprogrammed) according to your hearing loss. Your friend’s analog hearing aid is likely quite old.
So, for the most part you are only going to see digital hearing aids available anymore. And as I said earlier, this is good news for the consumer!
Bluetooth Hearing Aids
Q: I hear about Bluetooth in hearing aids. Is this something I need? Is it hard to use? – Amber from Austin, TX
A: Bluetooth can be a wonderful assistive device to help in various situations. Bluetooth devices can be hooked up to your car, phone, television or computer as long as that particular device is Bluetooth compatible as well. So, Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids could allow you to hear phone conversations through your hearing aids. . . they could allow you to hear your television through your hearing aids. . . they could allow you to hear music through your hearing aids.
Now, to your latter question. . . how hard is Bluetooth to use? This depends on how comfortable you are with the technology and how comfortable you are with the devices you are trying to hook it up to. Often times you will be tasked with handling most of the setup as it is difficult for a clinician or manufacturer to keep up with the thousands of phone, car and computer models. If you enjoy gadgets and have a little time and patience to get everything set up then Bluetooth can be incredibly helpful to you!
Open Fit and Receiver-In-The-Canal (RIC) Hearing Aids
Q: I started researching hearing aids and see open fit hearing aids and also receiver-in-the-ear hearing aids. What’s the difference and how do I know which one will work for me? – Cathy
A: These hearing aids are very similar. Both have the main part of the hearing aid sitting behind your ear with a small, thin tube going into the ear canal which anchors the hearing aid. They are both considered to be an “open fit” because the small tube (with a small tip on the end) is the only thing in the ear.
An open fit simply means that we don’t have a traditional, more bulky earmold anchoring the hearing aid in the ear. . . the ear is more open versus being closed off as it might be with a traditional earmold. The advantage of an open fit (whether it be a traditional open fit or the receiver-in-the-ear) is that it provides a more natural sound and is more physically comfortable.
The difference between these two is in the piece that goes in your ear. In the traditional open fit (the one we call open fit) the piece that goes in your ear is nothing more than a hollow tube with a plastic tip on the end. With the receiver-in-the-ear/receiver-in-canal the receiver of the electronics in the hearing aid is actually going in your ear. The tube that connects the larger part of the hearing aid has a very thin wire within it that connects to the receiver that is covered by the ear tip on the end.
So, it’s a little tricky. They are both considered to be an open-fit but we only call the one an open fit. The advantage of the receiver-in-the-ear is that it can fit a more severe hearing loss.
If you’d like to submit a question to Dr. Tammy Flodmand please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.