Almost 4 million Australians suffer from hearing loss. Some people are not aware that they require help with their hearing loss or of the options available that can help with hearing loss. People with hearing loss often report difficulty hearing during daily communication. Most people with hearing loss would benefit from hearing aids. While hearing aids cannot completely restore hearing, they can help a lot with hearing loss.
How do we hear?
When we look closely at how humans hear, we can appreciate the complexity involved. The human ear is made up of 3 parts:
- Outer ear
- Middle ear
- Inner ear
But what do each of these parts do?
The outer ear:
The outer ear includes the pinna (external ear) and ear canal. The pinna collects sound and sends it to the eardrum via the ear canal.
The middle ear:
The middle ear includes 3 tiny bones (ossicles) and the eardrum. As sound waves travel through the middle ear, the vibrations are intensified by these bones.
The inner ear:
The inner ear includes the hearing and balance organs. The 3 bones move the fluid in the cochlea and bend the microscopic hair cells within the cochlea. When this happens, electrical impulses are generated. These are then sent to the brain and sound is heard.
When you consider that all of this is going on at any given moment in the ear, then it is no wonder that things can and do go wrong at any stage. While these intricate processes carried out by the human ear cannot be replicated by hearing aids, hearing aids can help with hearing loss. A discussion with your audiologist can determine what kind of help you need with your hearing loss.
What is hearing loss?
Hearing loss arises when there is an issue in either of the parts of the ear mentioned above. Normal hearing requires all of these parts to be in good function. There are options available to help you with your hearing loss within each part of the ear.
So where can a ‘breakdown’ occur?
An issue in the outer, middle, or inner ear (or a combination) can result in hearing loss.
When there is an issue in the outer ear (e.g. a blockage by wax or a foreign object) or middle ear (e.g. a hole or fluid in the eardrum), conductive hearing loss may occur. This is where sound cannot pass to the inner ear from the outer or middle ear. Therefore, sound may not be loud enough. This hearing loss can be helped by hearing aids.
When there is an issue in the inner ear (e.g. damage due to loud noise or ageing), sensorineural hearing loss may occur. This is where sound can pass from the outer/middle ear to the inner ear but not further beyond this. Therefore, sound may not be clear enough. There are also aids that can help with this type of hearing loss.
When there is an issue in the outer/middle AND inner ear, a mixed hearing loss may occur. This type of hearing loss includes features of both conductive and sensorineural hearing losses and this type of hearing loss can also be helped by hearing aids.
As you can see, there are different types of hearing loss and they can all be helped with hearing aids.
What is a hearing aid?
A hearing aid is an electronic device which boosts the level of sound and helps with hearing loss. The device is worn on or in the ear. A hearing aid not only helps you to hear speech but also general environmental sounds (e.g. birds chirping), which you may not have heard for a long time. When you are fitted, it will take you some time to get used to hearing these sounds again. Consistent use of your hearing aids and perseverance is key to help you with your hearing loss.
There are different types and styles of hearing aids including:
Behind the ear (BTE) – These aids have 2 pieces, one you place behind the ear and one you insert in the ear canal. There is a thin or thick tube linking the two pieces together.
Receiver in the ear canal (RIC) – These aids also have 2 pieces, but the tube is replaced by a wire (receiver) which produces a clearer sound quality.
In the ear or in the canal (ITE or ITC) – These aids have only 1 piece, which fits in the ear or in the ear canal completely.
Completely in the canal (CIC) – These aids have only 1 piece which fits deeper in the ear canal than an ITE or ITC.
While there are various types of hearing aids, all can help with hearing loss. The best one for you depends on a number of factors including your hearing loss, lifestyle, needs, and wants.
How do hearing aids work?
The way in which hearing aids work is complex, but put simply, hearing aids have 3 parts:
The microphone in the hearing aid picks up sounds present in the environment. The level of this sound is then increased by the amplifier. The speaker then allows the boosted sound to reach the ear canal. In this way, hearing loss can be assisted with hearing aids to better hear these obscure sounds again.
There are of course far more complex and specialised processes occurring in hearing aids. Different hearing aids also perform these processes differently; however, these 3 parts apply to all hearing aids and are the reason that hearing aids help with hearing loss.
What can’t hearing aids do?
Whilst hearing aids cannot restore hearing completely, they can and do help those with hearing loss to hear better. Why can’t hearing aids restore hearing completely?
As we went over before, the ear is a very complex organ made up of a number of parts which must all be functioning well together for normal hearing of speech and general sounds to be possible. But things can go wrong and result in hearing loss and hearing aids can help the majority of people with hearing loss.
While hearing aid technology has advanced greatly in recent times, hearing aids are unable to completely reproduce the processes that occur in the human ear. They do although come very close and provide help with hearing loss.
Hearing aids have a limited number of frequency channels. These allow your audiologist to adjust or fine tune the hearing aids. However, the amount of these channels in hearing aids is limited when compared to the number of fine hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) which can provide us with very fine details. The hearing nerve is also able to provide very fine details given the number of fibres. Therefore, it is near impossible for hearing aids to be able to replicate this and completely restore hearing to normal but they are a good tool to help with hearing loss.
How can hearing aids help with hearing loss?
While hearing aids cannot restore your hearing completely, they can help with hearing loss. Hearing loss leads to a drop in the level of sound reaching the ear and hearing aids make sounds louder, making it easier for hearing-impaired people to hear.
Hearing aids turn sound into digital code which can be manipulated using hearing aid software. This allows audiologists to fine-tune hearing aids specifically to help with your unique hearing loss. Hearing aids can help you hear environmental sound and speech better and improves your quality of life. They allow you to enjoy conversation, music, and be aware of important environmental sounds (e.g. traffic noise, sirens, alarms).
For those who have had hearing loss for a long time, it will take some time to get used to a hearing aid as the brain is not used to hearing these sounds. It is important to wear the hearing aid consistently every day to adjust to it.
It is important to remember that hearing aids are just that, an aid! While they will not give you normal hearing again, they do help people with hearing loss to hear better and are a way for people to deal with hearing loss. They do, however, have their limitations and so you need to be prepared to encounter some bumps along the way and have realistic expectations. If you have realistic expectations, you will not be disappointed with how hearing aids can help you with your hearing loss.
Many Australians suffer from hearing loss. Human hearing involves a number of complex processes and things can go wrong resulting in hearing loss. While hearing aids cannot restore hearing completely, they can and do help people with hearing loss by helping them hear better, improving their quality of life.
If you’re experiencing hearing loss, don’t put it off an appointment with an Attune audiologist any longer. Call today on 1300 736 702 or enquire online to experience the benefits that hearing aids can provide in helping with your hearing loss.