Digital Hearing AmplifierIf you find yourself missing things in conversation or have a hard time hearing clearly in noisy places, you might need a hearing aid. But not all hearing devices are created equally. You’ll find tremendous differences in quality, style, features, and cost. This guide will help you choose what’s right for you.

Types of Hearing Aids

If you’ve never looked into hearing aids before, you might be overwhelmed by the choices. However, hearing devices fall into three types:

Personal sound amplifiers:

Not actually hearing aids, personal sound amplifiers are inexpensive devices that increase the volume of sounds. Popular brands include Loud N’ Clear, the Bionic Ear, MagniEar, and Listen Up! While some personal sound amplifiers sell for as little as $15, their technology is very rudimentary. Users might experience minor hearing improvement, but the quality and dependability of these devices may be limited.

Analog hearing aids:

The older generation of hearing aids, these devices use analog technology. Analog hearing aids have fewer features and are much bulkier.

Digital hearing aids:

Digital technology allows these aids to reduce background noise, amplify sounds from a certain direction, and come in attractive designs. Cost varies widely – traditional digital hearing aids from Beltone, Phonak, Widex, and other manufacturers cost as much as $3,299 each, while newer companies like HearAid look to bypass hearing care professionals and therefore sell the products directly to consumers for more like $300-$400.

Hearing Aid Styles

Much of your decision may be based on how you think a hearing aid looks, but even individual styles affect hearing the performance.

In-the-canal and “shell” hearing aids:

These are custom molded to the inside of your ear. This style is most effective for people with up to a severe hearing loss. However, some people don’t like the resulting sensation that their ears are “plugged.”

Open-fit hearing aids:

Typically very small, open-fit hearing aids sit behind your ear and transmit sound through a tube that rests near your ear canal. An open-fit device doesn’t plug the ear, but some devices are too small to adjust manually.

Behind-the-ear hearing aids:

These hearing aids hook over the top of your ear to rest behind it. The hearing aid amplifies sound and transmits it to a small dome or tube that sits inside your ear. In general, this type of hearing aid is capable of more sound amplification than other styles.

Hearing Aid Features

There is a large range of features that will affect a hearing aid’s performance and ease of use.

Digital Signal Processing (DSP):

  • Digital hearing aids can categorize an incoming sound, then trigger the features that best manage that type of sound.
  • Noise filtering identifies background noise and reduces it in comparison to primary listening sounds.
  • Directional technology helps direct your hearing to the sound you’re facing–instead of noises behind and to the sides of you.
  • Volume and/or program controls allow you to adjust your hearing aid without seeing a professional. Product warranty should include parts and labor for a specified period of time. Trial period and/or guarantee allow you to test the hearing aid and determine if it’s right for you.

Cost of Hearing Aids

It’s the high cost of hearing aids that prevent many people from obtaining a device that could improve their hearing–and their quality of life. Personal sound amplifiers are very inexpensive (as little as $15), but they do not provide the quality or features of medical-level hearing aids.

Whichever hearing aid you select, remember, wearing one effectively takes some time to adjust. Hearing aids take some practice–and they won’t “cure” poor hearing. However, when selected well, they can significantly change the way you hear and enjoy life.