Hearing loss can occur with regular unprotected exposure to high levels of noise. The louder the noise, the greater the risk of hearing loss. The most severe listening environments are created by city traffic, in factories and heavy industry, around snowmobiles and during gardening work that involve the use of lawn mowers. Chain saws also create high levels of noise that challenge hearing.
Once the cells that process sound to the inner ear are damaged, they cannot be reversed to normal. That is when hearing becomes impaired. To compensate for hearing impairment, treatment is centred upon functional improvement. Hearing aids are the most commonly prescribed devices for treating hearing loss. But are hearing aids good as they can be? Can they restore hearing and can users expect them to aid communication? Although there is a number of hearing impaired people who can benefit from using hearing aids, only 6 million actually use them. The reasons are many, and cost is the biggest of obstacles along with performance expectations.
There are two types of hearing aids that exist – analogue and digital.
Analogue hearing aids merely amplify all sound and do not identify the difference between speech and background noise. That is why users may find them unwearable in certain situations, such as large gatherings or at the theatre where the sharp noises and occasional public responses can be unbearable.
With the introduction of digital sound processing, the main acoustical advantage of the digital hearing aids is clarity. Simply put, digital hearing aids consist of tiny computers that capture incoming sound and then modify it according to the quality of the sound itself and to a programme tailored to the specific type of hearing loss. This makes these devices precise, and precision is something analogue hearing aids lack. While digital hearing aids help hear sounds in noisy places, they still have difficulty filtering out background noise, especially if that noise is speech.
However, hearing aids that have advanced dual microphone technology and utilise the most sophisticated digital sound processing techniques can help with this problem. Modern hearing aids have directional intelligence which means they bear sounds and automatically adjust themselves to match the demands of the different listening environments. They do all this automatically without buttons to press, or dials to turn or settings to remember. Modern digital hearing aids automatically improve speech understanding in noise. They also feature modern design and wireless connectivity, which enables users to connect their aid to various household devices including TVs, mobile phones, etc.
New and radically different hearing aid engineering is creating more advancements and options than previous generations could ever imagine. In today’s market, hearing aid users can find tiny instruments that fit comfortably into their ear canal and provide astonishingly natural sound quality. While digital hearing aids promise dramatically enhanced performance, sometimes users still have unrealistic expectations. Unfortunately, if a hearing aid, whether analogue or digital, is utilised late in the progress of hearing loss, its benefits may be diminished.