Grand Rapids, MI 616-773-2419
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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Otoscope and hearing aid on audiogram printout

Are you looking into investing in hearing aids?

If so, it can feel overwhelming at first. There are numerous options out there, and the obscure terminology doesn’t help.

That’s why we’re going to define the most common and significant terms, so when you work with your hearing professional you’ll be prepared to find the ideal hearing aid for you.

Hearing loss and testing

High-frequency hearing loss – this is the most commonly encountered form of hearing loss. People with high-frequency hearing loss have the most difficulty hearing higher frequency sounds, such as the sounds of speech.

Sensorineural hearing loss – this form of hearing loss occurs when there is injury to the nerve cells of the inner ear. This is the most prevalent form of permanent hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise, the aging process, genetics, or other health issues.

Bilateral hearing loss – hearing loss in both ears, which may be symmetrical (the same level of loss in both ears) or asymmetrical (varied degrees of loss in each ear). Bilateral hearing loss is ordinarily best treated with two hearing aids.

Audiogram – the chart which provides a visual depiction of your hearing test results. The vertical axis measures decibels (volume) and the horizontal axis measures frequencies (pitch). The hearing consultant records the lowest decibel level you are able to hear at each frequency. If you necessitate higher volumes to hear higher frequencies, your audiogram will show a sequence of high-frequency hearing loss.

Decibel (dB) – the unit utilized to measure sound level or strength. Routine conversation registers at around 60 decibels, and prolonged exposure to any sound over 80 decibels could lead to irreversible hearing loss. Since the scale is logarithmic, an increase of 6-10 decibels doubles the volume of the sound.

Frequency – represents pitch as measured in hertz. Think of moving up the keys on a piano, from left to right (low-frequency/pitch to high-frequency/pitch).

Threshold of hearing – The lowest decibel level that can be heard at each individual frequency.

Degree of hearing loss – Hearing loss can be classified as mild (26-40 dB loss), moderate (41-55), severe (71-90), or profound (91+).

Tinnitus – a persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears when no exterior sound is present. Normally an indication of hearing injury or loss.

Hearing aid styles

Digital hearing aid – hearing aids that incorporate a digital microchip, utilized to custom-program the hearing aids to complement each person’s distinct hearing loss.

Hearing aid style – the type of hearing aid specified by its size and location relative to the ear. Core styles include behind-the-ear, in-the-ear, and in-the-canal.

Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids – the majority of hearing aid components are contained inside of a case that fits behind the ear, connected to an earmold by a clear plastic tube. Mini-BTE hearing aids are also available.

In the ear (ITE) hearing aids – the hearing aid components are enclosed within a case that fits in the external part of the ear.

In the canal (ITC) hearing aids – the hearing aid parts are enclosed in a case that fits within the ear canal. Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids are also obtainable that are virtually invisible when worn.

Hearing aid parts

Earmold – a piece of plastic, acrylic, or other soft material that is shaped to the contours of the patient’s ears, utilized for the fitting of hearing aids.

Microphone – the hearing aid part that picks up environmental sound and converts the sound waves into an electrical signal.

Digital signal processor – a special microprocessor within a hearing aid that can manipulate and enhance sound.

Amplifier – the part of the hearing aid that boosts the volume of sound.

Speaker – the hearing aid component that supplies the enhanced sound to the ear.

Wireless antenna – available in certain hearing aids, permitting wireless connectivity to compatible equipment such as mobile phones and music players.

Hearing aid advanced features

Variable programming – hearing aid programming that allows the user to adjust sound settings according to the environment (e.g. at home versus in a chaotic restaurant).

Directional microphones – microphones that can center on sound originating from a specific location while reducing background noise.

Telecoils – a coil situated within the hearing aid that enables it to connect to wireless signals emanating from telephones, assistive listening devices, and hearing loops installed in public venues.

Noise reduction – functionality that helps the hearing aid to distinguish speech sounds from background noise, which results in the augmentation of speech and the inhibition of disruptive noise.

Bluetooth technology – allows the hearing aid to communicate wirelessly with a variety of devices, including mobile devices, computers, audio players, and other compatible devices.


Uncertain of which features you need, or which you could live without? Let us help you discover the best hearing aid for your unique requirements. Give us a call today!