Have you ever had trouble hearing in a congested room or restaurant but can hear without any problem at home? Do you have particular challenges hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?
If yes, you may have hearing loss, and hearing aids may be able to help.
But how exactly do hearing aids work? Are they basic amplifiers, or something more elaborate?
This week we’ll be exploring how hearing aids work and how they are a bit more advanced than many people recognize. But first, let’s begin with how normal hearing works.
How Normal Hearing Works
The hearing process commences with sound. Sound is simply a type of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a pond. Things create sound in the environment when they cause vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are eventually caught and transferred to the ear canal by the outer ear.
Just after moving through the ear canal, the sound vibrations strike the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates, creating and amplifying the original signal which is then transferred by the middle ear bones to the snail-shaped organ of the middle ear called the cochlea.
The cochlea is filled with fluid and very small nerve cells known as cilia. The vibrations transferred from the middle ear bones stir the fluid and stimulate the cilia. The cilia then transmit electrical signals to the brain and the brain interprets the signals as sound.
With most instances of noise-induced hearing loss, there is injury to the cilia. As a consequence, the incoming signal to the brain is weaker and sounds appear quieter or muffled. But not all sound frequencies are equally impaired. Usually, the higher-pitched sounds, such as speech, are impacted to a greater extent.
In a noisy setting, like a restaurant, your ability to hear speech is compromised because your brain is receiving a weakened signal for high-frequency sounds. At the same time, background noise, which is low-frequency, is getting through normally, drowning out the speech.
How Hearing Aids Can Help
You can see that the solution is not merely amplifying all sound. If you were to do this, you’d just continue drowning out speech as the background noise grows to be louder relative to the speech sounds.
The solution is selective amplification of only the sound frequencies you have a hard time hearing. And that is only feasible by having your hearing professionally examined and your hearing aids professionally programmed to magnify these select frequencies.
How Hearing Aids Precisely Amplify Sound
Modern hearing aids contain five internal parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just straightforward amplifiers—they’re intricate electronic devices that change the attributes of sound.
This occurs by way of the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is unique, like a fingerprint, and therefore the frequencies you need amplified will differ. The extraordinary part is, those frequencies can be established exactly with a professional hearing test, technically known as an audiogram.
Once your hearing professional has these figures, your hearing aid can be programmed to amplify the frequencies you have the most trouble with, improving upon speech recognition in the process.
Here’s how it works: the hearing aid picks up sound in the environment with the microphone and transmits the sound to the computer chip. The computer chip then translates the sound into digital information so that it can distinguish between different frequencies.
Then, determined by the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are enhanced, the low-frequency background sounds are suppressed, and the refined sound is delivered to your ear via the speaker.
So will your hearing revert completely to normal?
While your hearing will not totally revert to normal, that shouldn’t stop you from achieving major gains in your hearing. For nearly all people, the amplification offered is all they need to understand speech and indulge in effective and effortless communication.
Think about it this way. If your eye doctor told you they could improve your vision from 20/80 to 20/25, would you forgo prescription glasses because you couldn’t get to 20/20? Absolutely not; you’d be able to function just fine with 20/25 vision and the gain from 20/80 would be considerable.
Are you set to see the gains you can achieve with modern hearing aids? Give us a call today!