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McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

Closeup of hearing aids in ear

Have you ever had problems hearing in a crowded room or restaurant but can hear without any problem at home? Do you have particular challenges hearing higher-pitched voices or TV dialogue?

If so, 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 taking a look at how hearing aids work and how they are a great deal more advanced than many people recognize. But first, let’s start with how normal hearing works.

How Normal Hearing Works

The hearing process begins with sound. Sound is essentially a kind of energy that travels in waves, like ripples in a lake. Things create sound in the environment when they generate vibrations in the air, and those vibrations are eventually captured and sent to the ear canal by the outer ear.

Just after passing 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 referred to as the cochlea.

The cochlea is full of fluid and tiny nerve cells known as cilia. The vibrations transferred 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 the signals as sound.

With most cases of noise-induced hearing loss, there is damage to the cilia. As a consequence, the arriving signal to the brain is weaker and sounds appear softer or muffled. But not all frequencies are uniformly impaired. Frequently, the higher-pitched sounds, including speech, are affected to a greater extent.

In a raucous setting, like a restaurant, your ability to hear speech is weakened because your brain is obtaining a diminished signal for high-frequency sounds. On top of that, 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 simply amplifying all sound. If you were to do this, you’d just continue to drown 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 trouble hearing. And that is only possible by having your hearing professionally examined and your hearing aids professionally programmed to boost these specific frequencies.

How Hearing Aids Selectively Amplify Sound

Modern day hearing aids consist of five interior parts: the microphone, amplifier, speaker, battery, and computer chip. But hearing aids are not just simple amplifiers—they’re sophisticated electronic devices that modify the properties of sound.

This happens via the computer chip. Everyone’s hearing is unique, like a fingerprint, and so the frequencies you need amplified will differ. The extraordinary part is, those frequencies can be determined precisely with a professional hearing test, technically 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 receives 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 differentiate between various frequencies.

Then, based on the programmed settings, the high-frequency sounds are amplified, the low-frequency background sounds are suppressed, and the refined sound is delivered to your ear via the speaker.

So will your hearing return perfectly to normal?

While your hearing will not completely return to normal, that shouldn’t prevent you from attaining major gains in your hearing. For the majority of individuals, the amplification delivered is all they require to comprehend speech and indulge in productive and effortless communication.

Think about it in 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 improvement from 20/80 would be considerable.

Are you set to find out the improvements you can achieve with contemporary hearing aids? Give us a call today!