Hearing aid technology has advanced far beyond what was believed possible in the late 20th century. The switch from analog to digital programmable hearing aids revolutionized the industry to its core. As of 2005, over 80% of hearing aids on the market were digital and as of 2020, almost all hearing aids are considered “smart”. Referring to a “smart” hearing aid sounds silly but with the technological advancements made over the last 20 years, we are truly living in a new hearing aided world.
You may be asking what makes a hearing aid smart and why should that matter to me? Well, let’s take a look at the inner workings of hearing aids to better explain why today’s hearing aids are far more advanced than you may know. Starting with what can be considered one of, if not the most important part of the hearing aid the microphone.
The microphone picks up the sound from the environment and converts it into an electrical signal. Hearing aids can have more than one microphone, which is referred to as a directional microphone system. They can also possess an omnidirectional microphone that picks up sounds coming from all directions giving the user an idea of where sounds are coming from. Digital technology converts the incoming signal from the microphones into digital code. That code is then analyzed and adjusted based on the listener’s environment and degree of hearing loss they possess. Most new hearing aids come equipped with both types of microphones to help wearers pick up speech from multiple directions, creating a more natural listening experience.
The microchip is the brain of the hearing aid. It takes in sound from the microphones and converts it to a digital code which then can be manipulated and adjusted depending on where and what environment you find yourself in. It is during the time spent going thought the “brain” of the hearing aid that determines how much amplification it needs to fit your hearing loss needs.
The amplifier does as its name suggest amplifies the sound processed by the microchip or brain of the hearing aid.
There are many different battery types you can get when choosing your hearing aid. There are 4 different replaceable battery options as well as lithium-ion rechargeable options as well. Depending on what battery you choose as well as the level of hearing loss you have you can expect to get 1 full day of use on rechargeable batteries. If you choose a 10, 312, 13, or 675 Zink Air battery you can expect anywhere from 3 to 7 days of use before needing to swap in a new battery.
The receiver is the piece of the device directed at the wearer's inner ear. Some hearing aids have the receiver placed directly in the ear canal, such as with a completely-in-the-canal style. Other devices have the receiver connect to a small tube that's inserted into the ear, like with the behind-the-ear style.
The complexity and sophistication of modern hearing aid technology cannot be overstated. While it may appear to be a long process from start to finish, it's actually happening in a fraction of a second. It's through constant research and development that hearing technology continues to improve, and people with hearing loss can enjoy the most natural listening experiences possible.
Healthyhearing.com, April 25, 2016. Hearing aid history: From ear trumpets to digital technology.
Townend O., Nielsen J.B. & Ramsgaard J. 2018. Real-life applications of machine learning in hearing aids. Hearing Review, 25(4), 34-37.