Originally published by Healthy Hearing on August 25, 2020

Pity the poor hearing aid. Although their satisfaction rate among users is more than 70 percent, and they are credited for providing their users with a greater quality of life, they remain among the most misunderstood–and stigmatized – devices in the medical world today. Even though they successfully amplify sound for millions of Americans, there are approximately 25 million more who would benefit from their use, but won’t wear them.

Why? Some are afraid the devices make them look old. Others refuse to believe they have a hearing problem. Others don’t believe they will improve their ability to hear because of an experience a friend or family member shared. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to familiarize yourself with a few FAQs about hearing aids.

What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a small electronic device worn behind the ear or in the ear canal. It amplifies sound so that a person with hearing loss can hear sound better. Hearing devices have three components: a microphone, amplifier and speaker. Sound comes through the microphone and is converted into an electrical signal and sent to the amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and sends them to the ear through the speaker.

Today’s hearing aid is much smaller and more powerful than the hearing devices our parents and grandparents wore even 10 years ago. Advances in digital technology make them better able to distinguish conversation in noisy environments; many are Bluetooth capable and connect with smartphones and other personal electronic devices we now use on a daily basis.

Can hearing aids improve my hearing?

That depends on what type of hearing loss you have:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear. This damage can be caused by exposure to loud noise, illness, medication, injury or age. If your hearing healthcare professional determines you have sensorineural hearing loss, you will probably benefit from wearing a hearing aid.
    • Age-related hearing loss, generally a subset of sensorineural, is the loss of hearing that occurs in most people as they age. This condition, known medically as presbycusis, is common and can often be improved with hearing aids.
  • Conductive hearing loss, however, is usually caused by an obstruction in the ear canal, such as swelling due to an ear infection or a benign tumor. If your hearing healthcare professional determines your hearing loss is conductive, your hearing may return to normal once the obstruction has been removed. If your hearing does not return to normal, you may benefit from wearing a hearing aid, cochlear implant or bone-anchored hearing system.

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