How do hearing aids work?

How do hearing aids work

Returning lost hearing

The impact of hearing loss is mostly felt in communication. The result is that relationships, social interactions, and community connectedness can all deteriorate as conversations becomes increasingly challenging. When people come to us for help with hearing loss, what they really want, is to hear speech better.

Naturally enough you might say. But achieving this goal with hearing aids is complex and takes care, expertise, and attention to detail. So, how does it all work?

The Speech Banana

The key sounds we use in speech, are called “speech sounds” and many of the most descriptive speech sounds occur in the higher frequencies (think of each frequency as a key on a piano, or a string on a harp, some are high, some in the middle, some low). Consonant speech sounds like “s”, “f”, “th”, “ch”, “sh”, “v”, “p”, etc. can be easily confused and require clear hearing in the high frequencies to tell apart. This allows the listener to tell the difference between “get the chips”, “get the ships” or “get the shi…”.  Well, you get the idea.

Take a look at this graph. It’s what we call ‘the speech banana’. The lower sounds on the left, higher sounds on the right. On the right-hand side a key shows the degree of hearing loss with better hearing at the top. Sound above any given threshold will be perceived as quiet due to the degree of hearing loss. The yellow area, or banana, is where speech sounds occur. Notice that even a mild loss in the higher frequencies (4000-5000 Hz at the top of the table) results in the “th”, “f” and “s” speech sounds being lost.

Boosting frequencies

When we fit hearing aids, we develop a prescription. That’s done through a hearing test. The prescription dictates the amount of amplification needed at each frequency to correct the loss and make the specific speech sound clear and audible again. This correction is where the magic happens! Using your prescription, and discussing your clinical needs and personal goals, we increase the output of the hearing aid at each of those frequencies to give you clarity. Rushed adjustments, or those performed automatically by the computer, can result in the commonly reported problem of “volume, but not clarity”.

Once this has been done, you may suddenly become aware of a range of new sounds. These sounds have always been there, but you may not have been able to hear them for a long time, and so forgot they existed. You may hear water in the sink, clocks ticking, slippers on carpet, and the rustle of your clothing. All these things are natural and normal sounds that are revealed anew when hearing loss in corrected.

The good news is that through the process of acclimatation, someone who wears their hearing aids as much as possible, will soon get used to the noisy world. The bad news is that you can’t avoid being reintroduced to these normal natural sounds if you wish to hear speech, because these sounds occur in the same auditory environment.

Buy a hearing aid that works

When shopping around for a hearing aid remember that you are treating a medical condition, not buying a new phone or television. The clinical considerations required for successful hearing rehabilitation are detailed and various, and they rest on a solid scientific foundation as well as a clinical appreciation of your unique circumstances.

If you are interested in being treated with the dignity and respect that you deserve as a sufferer of hearing loss, call A Better Ear on 3821 3744.  We take service seriously. You’ll receive the ethical and independent advice of an expertly qualified audiologist, motivated to help you enjoy the conversation of your nearest and dearest, once again.

Disclaimer: All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Eligibility for, and services available under the Hearing Services Program may change. Please check the HSP website for up-to-date details.

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