The latest hearing aids are tiny computers and their technology can be adjusted and tailored to your unique hearing needs. Their small size and light weight makes them comfortable to wear. They come in different styles, fits and colours. And the best part is, that they’re available at affordable prices too.
Hearing aids don’t just make everything louder: they amplify the sounds that you need for communication and reduce the disruptive sounds you don’t want.
When you have a hearing loss, everything doesn’t just sound quieter. You probably find certain sounds more difficult to hear and understand than others. Plus, some sounds are unpleasant, or even painful, like sudden loud noises, wind noise, or very high pitches. So if a hearing aid just made everything louder, it wouldn’t be very helpful!
Of course, hearing aids do contain technology to amplify sound signals: if you have a hearing loss, you can only hear sounds above a certain volume. But think about it – if everything was made louder to the same degree, noises like a police siren would become unbearable. That’s why hearing aids can be adjusted to cater to your own discomfort threshold. This threshold represents the maximum volume before sounds become unpleasant to hear. For most people without a hearing loss, this value is around 100 decibels (dB). Hearing aids can be set so that sounds won’t be heard above your discomfort threshold, to make sure you’re hearing comfortably.
Hearing aids also need to amplify the specific frequencies that you can no longer hear very well. Modern digital hearing aids can cater to your own hearing loss, and to the frequency ranges that you find the most difficult to hear, in a precise and targeted way.
For many people with hearing loss, their biggest challenge is background noise. Trying to have a conversation in a noisy environment, like a busy restaurant, means relying on some very complex processing mechanisms to single out a friend's voice – and when you have a hearing loss, this is much harder. Because this such a common difficulty, hearing aid manufacturers are constantly working hard to improve the technology to help tackle hearing in background noise. Thanks to years of pioneering research, current technology can now significantly improve your ability to hear and understand speech in loud, busy environments.
To help you hear better in other challenging situations, hearing aids also feature a variety of programs. When you switch your hearing aid to a set program, its settings update to what you need to help you hear best in that particular situation, some hearing aids even do this automatically. Hearing aids can also suppress background noise and unpleasant feedback whistling – so the infamous whistling sound that older hearing aids made is now a thing of the past.
Many behind-the-ear hearing aids have something called a T-loop (also called a telecoil) or an induction loop. This can be really useful during phone calls – it transfers the speech signals from your phone directly to your ear! You might have seen a hearing loop sign displayed in public places like theatres, meeting rooms, or shops: this sign means that there is a system in place there that sends speech directly to your hearing aid, while any disruptive background noise is filtered out.
Did you know that the first patent-registered hearing aid was worn by Queen Alexandra in 1901? From being used exclusively by royal eavesdroppers, to being worn by millions of people in the UK today, hearing aids have only really become popular in the last 200 years.
Hearing aids have become an everyday essential for many people – just like glasses. Life without these tiny technical devices would be almost inconceivable. And just like smartphones, the latest generations of hearing aids are becoming smaller, lighter, and more powerful. It might seem like the development of hearing technology has been quick, but it actually goes right back to the 17th century!
In the 17th century, it took a big, cumbersome device to help people with hearing loss. Funnel-shaped hearing trumpets amplified sounds by 20 to 30 dB. While they were large and not very portable, they were effective!
It was the invention of the telephone in the 19th century that paved the way for the development of the electric hearing aid. But at the time, telephone technology was still too cumbersome.
In 1901, American engineer Miller R. Hutchinson registered a patent for the first portable hearing aid. The device, which was owned by Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII, was significantly smaller, but still weighed a hefty 12kg!
By the 1940s, hearing aids had already shrunk to the size of a cigarette packet. But the introduction of the transistor in the 1950s marked a breakthrough. The foundations for behind-the-ear hearing aids were laid.
By the 1980s, hearing aids had developed to become pretty technologically advanced for the time. And then the digital revolution reached the field of hearing aid technology. Hearing aids have undergone constant development right up to the present day, in order to give you the most natural and clear sounds possible. Devices are becoming ever smaller and more discreet, and are now scarcely visible in the ear – in fact, some are even invisible when you’re wearing them.
Digital technology is advancing even as you read this – allowing even those with the most severe hearing loss to find a solution to help them hear at their best.
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