How do Hearing Aids Work?

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding hearing aids is that they just make everything louder. While hearing aids in the past gave users little more than volume control (either up or down), today’s hearing aids do so much more, and put the user in so much more control. Today’s hearing aids are fine tuned via a computer to sound better for your exact needs and hearing loss, can be 100% invisible, and have an amazing set of features designed to help you hear better in a wide array of environments. In this post I’ll attempt to break down how hearing aids work and what this means for you- the hearing aid wearer.

Photo of the inside of a hearing aid

Electrical components of a hearing aid

Main parts and functions of hearing aids
To understand how hearing aids work, let’s first look at the different electrical components involved. All hearing aids are battery powered and today’s advanced digital hearing aids consist of four main parts: the microphone, the amplifier, the microchip, and the receiver. In the simplest of terms, the microphone does what you would think it does- it picks up sounds from the environment and converts them in to electric signals for the amplifier. The amplifier then processes those sounds and selectively amplifies those signals. The microchip is like a miniature computer that stores your various sound preferences (more on that below) and tells your hearing aids how to amplify sound. Lastly, the receiver (where the sound comes out), changes those electric signals back into sound and delivers the sound to the ear.

How are hearing aids fine-tuned for each individual?
Hearing aids today are precisely adjusted by hearing providers, so they sound just right for you. All of this is done through proprietary software built by hearing aid manufacturers, which allows their distributors to program and adjust your hearing aids. The first thing a provider will do when adjusting your hearing aids is input the results of your hearing loss into the software. From there, the provider will begin to make numerous adjustments to the hearing aids so they sound right for you. For instance, some people complain that hearing aids sound tinny, “echo-y”, or perhaps they just aren’t loud enough. Using the hearing aid programming software, your provider can adjust all these settings, and many, many more. When the hearing aids are programmed for your loss, all of that information is stored in the microchip, and that chip actually acts as the “brain” of the hearing aid and tells all the other parts how to do their jobs.

How do hearing aids help you hear better?
Most people that wear hearing aids have a sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is the result of damage to the sensory cells of the inner ear- they are actually hair cells. Damage to these hair cells occurs for a number of reasons, it could be just age, certain diseases or infections, ototoxic medications, or prolonged exposure to loud noise. Hearing aids magnify sound vibrations so your surviving hair cells can detect those more powerful vibrations and convert them to signals that are then sent to the brain. So essentially, hearing aids are “waking up” hair cells which were not working well enough, and then the hair cells do the rest of the work and send the signals to the brain.

This sounds great, but will I like hearing aids?
You don’t know until you try them! Seriously, hearing aid success is very subjective. For example, you could have two identical twins with identical hearing losses, wearing identical hearing aids with identical settings. One of them may love them, the other may hate them. There are so many nuances to the way we perceive sounds that it is a very case-by-case basis. The majority of people that wear hearing aids and spend enough time with their provider getting adjustments made (to the microchip), end up liking their hearing aids enough to wear them 16+ hours a day. Of course, not everyone is pleased with how hearing aids sound, and for a number of reasons, but this is why trial periods are mandated in every state in the US. If you’re not happy with your hearing aids for whatever reason during the (minimum) 30 day trial period, by law you can return your hearing aids to the provider for a refund- though in some cases a small “professional fee” or restocking fee may apply.

If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.

Leave a comment