Have you ever had difficulties hearing in a crowded room or restaurant but can hear just fine at home? Do you have particular trouble hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?
If yes, you might have hearing loss, and hearing aids might be able to help.
But how do hearing aids work exactly? Are they simple amplifiers, or something more complex?
This week we’ll be looking at how hearing aids work and how they are a great deal more sophisticated than many people recognize. But first, let’s begin with how normal hearing works.
How Normal Hearing Works
The hearing process starts out with sound. Sound is essentially a kind of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a pond. Things produce sound in the environment when they generate vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are ultimately caught and transmitted to the ear canal by the outer ear.
Immediately after passing through the ear canal, the sound vibrations hit the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates, creating and amplifying the original signal which is then transmitted by the middle ear bones to the snail-shaped organ of the middle ear called the cochlea.
The cochlea is full of fluid and very small nerve cells called cilia. The vibrations transported from the middle ear bones shake the fluid and stimulate the cilia. The cilia then transmit electrical signals to the brain and the brain interprets those signals as sound.
With most instances of noise-induced hearing loss, there is injury to the cilia. As a result, the arriving signal to the brain is compromised and sounds seem quieter or muffled. But not all frequencies are uniformly impaired. Generally, the higher-pitched sounds, such as speech, are impacted to a greater degree.
In a raucous setting, like a restaurant, your ability to hear speech is diminished because your brain is obtaining a compromised signal for high-frequency sounds. Simultaneously, background noise, which is low-frequency, is getting through normally, drowning out the speech.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
As you can see the solution is not merely amplifying all sound. If you were to do that, you’d just continue drowning out speech as the background noise becomes louder in proportion to the speech sounds.
The solution is selective amplification of only the sound frequencies you have trouble hearing. And that is only possible by having your hearing professionally assessed and your hearing aids professionally programmed to amplify these select frequencies.
How Hearing Aids Selectively Amplify Sound
Contemporary hearing aids consist of five internal parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just ordinary amplifiers—they’re sophisticated electronic devices that change the characteristics of sound.
This happens via the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is one-of-a-kind, like a fingerprint, and so the frequencies you need amplified will vary. The amazing part is, those frequencies can be determined precisely with a professional hearing test, known as an audiogram.
Once your hearing professional has these numbers, your hearing aid can be programmed to enhance the frequencies you have the most difficulty with, boosting speech recognition in the process.
Here’s how it works: the hearing aid picks up sound in the environment with the microphone and transfers the sound to the computer chip. The computer chip then converts the sound into digital information so that it can distinguish between various frequencies.
Then, based upon the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are amplified, the low-frequency background sounds are suppressed, and the improved sound is sent to your ear via the speaker.
So will your hearing go back perfectly to normal?
While your hearing will not entirely return to normal, that shouldn’t prevent you from achieving substantial gains in your hearing. For the majority of individuals, the amplification provided is all they require to understand speech and participate in productive and effortless communication.
Think about it in this way. If your eye doctor told you they could enhance your vision from 20/80 to 20/25, would you forfeit prescription glasses because you couldn’t get to 20/20? Of course not; you’d be able to function perfectly with 20/25 vision and the improvement from 20/80 would be substantial.
Are you set to see the improvements you can achieve with contemporary hearing aids? Give us a call today!