Hearing aids won't restore your hearing to normal, but they will improve what you hear. When you first get hearing aids, you shouldn't immediately expect a comfortable listening experience. At first, sounds may be too loud—sometimes uncomfortably so. This is a normal response. You'll likely need an adjustment period, which could last as long as 90 days. During this time, your brain relearns how to process sound through the new devices, so it's important to try to endure the temporary loudness.

All hearing aids run on batteries and contain a microphone, an amplifier and a speaker. They're most commonly worn in both ears. Models vary in size, strength and the way they're worn—behind the ear or in the ear.

Styles of hearing aids

Hearing aids come in many shapes and sizes. Your audiologist will help you choose a model that is easy to use and suits your lifestyle and price range. Hearing aids can be analog or digital. Older analog aids can be programmed with settings for various listening environments according to the user’' preferences. Digital aids, usually more expensive than analog, can be fine-tuned for specific frequencies and have more programming flexibility.

Behind-the-ear (BTE) aids A plastic case that hooks behind the ear houses the electronics. It's attached to a customized, plastic ear mold that fits in the outer ear. Pros: Good for mild to profound hearing loss, allows for the most amplification among all types, long battery life, easy to clean Cons: May be visible, can be difficult to wear with eyeglasses

Open-fit behind-the-ear (BTE) aids The miniature digital component fits completely behind the ear, eliminating the need for a mold. A small tube runs into the ear canal. Pros: Voices sound less "plugged up," less visible than other hearing aids, the tube's design keeps it away from earwax—good for people who have wax buildup—and allows the ear canal to remain open Cons: Smaller batteries don't last as long as larger ones, small size may limit ability to make manual adjustments, may be visible, not good for severe to profound hearing loss

In-the-ear (ITE) aids A small, custom-molded plastic case sits in and completely fills the outer ear and has no external wires or tubes. Pros: Good for mild to severe hearing loss, optional "telecoil" makes it easier to hear phone conversations and some public sound systems, has volume control Cons: Is visible in the ear, may be sensitive to wind noise, not good for severe to profound hearing loss

In-the-canal (ITC) aid A tiny case, custom molded to fit the size and shape of the ear canal, sits partly in the ear canal. Pros: Good for mild to moderately severe hearing loss, less visible than other hearing aids, usually works well with the telephone, less sensitive to wind noise Cons: Not good for severe to profound hearing loss, small size may make it difficult to adjust and remove, may cause some feedback

Completely in-the-canal (CIC ) aid A tiny case is nearly hidden deep in the ear canal. Usually has a cord or tiny handle to aid in removing it. Pros: Good for mild to moderately severe hearing loss, less visible than other hearing aids, usually works well with the telephone, less sensitive to wind noise Cons: Not good for severe to profound hearing loss, small size may make it difficult to adjust and remove, no volume control, too small to hold devices like telecoil, smaller batteries don't last as long as larger ones, can become clogged with wax and require repairs

Doctor's Viewpoint

Frank R. Lin, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery and Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health

It is critical for individuals with hearing loss to understand that a hearing aid is only one component of a multifaceted approach toward hearing loss treatment. Other devices such as hearing loop systems and personal FM systems and extensive counseling and training by an audiologist are needed to ensure that an individual with hearing loss is able to communicate effectively.

When choosing an audiologist, make sure he or she adheres to best practice guidelines on the treatment of hearing impairment put forth by the American Academy of Audiologists (www.audiology.org/resources/documentlibrary/Documents/haguidelines.pdf).

Source: Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 18 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 13 Jan 2015