A hearing aid is a vital item for anyone with hearing loss, and in the UK, that amounts to an amazing 9-million people! Not only that, but hearing is proven to be the first of the five senses to dim with age (the second, curiously, is taste) so it is no surprise that so many people suffer from some level of hearing loss. Hearing aids have come a long way in the past few years, thanks in no small part to the advent of digital technology – more of that later – and also cheaper manufacturing methods, so the models on offer now are far better than those of just a few years ago.
We thought we would help you out by providing you with this buyer’s guide, in which we cover all types of hearing aids available to buy right now. Bear in mind that these are commercially available aids – not those provided by the NHS – and while there may be benefits on both sides, the choice is yours. What we will say, before we advance, is that if you think you suffer from anything more than mild to moderate hearing loss, you should consult a specialist and have a full audiological test; this will determine whether you need an aid that is more sophisticated than those you can buy off the shelf.
Most of the hearing aids we review are designed for people who have mild to moderate hearing loss; if you have trouble when watching television, for example, or when in a social situation where you repeatedly ask people to repeat themselves, a hearing aid such as this may be the answer. We will offer you some examples – as well as some excellent idea on accessories – but before we begin, let’s talk about the different types of hearing aids, so you know what we are on about.
- 1 Types of Hearing Aids
- 2 Which Do You Need?
- 3 Hearing Aid Accessories
Types of Hearing Aids
Until relatively recently, all hearing aids followed a common design: they sat behind the ear, and all they actually did was amplify sound. Quality was notoriously poor – even from the best models – and they did nothing to compensate from one of the biggest problems with hearing loss: a lack of clarity. Recent developments in technology mean that most hearing aids you can buy off the shelf are now at least adequate, and some are very good indeed. So, what type do you need? Here’s some information that may help you decide.
Behind the Ear
The ‘traditional’ style of hearing aid is this one, the ‘behind-the-ear’ model. You will be familiar with this whether you wear a hearing aid or not, and they remain the most popular of all the different styles of aid. The concept is simple: an amplifier is housed in a plastic shell that attaches to a catheter. The catheter connects to an earpiece that sits inside the ear. The sound is transmitted from the receiver to the ear via the catheter.
While behind-the-ear aids remain popular – and have become somewhat smaller and less conspicuous over the years – there are many users who feel self-conscious about wearing an aid, and who prefer to wear one that sits inside the ear and cannot be seen. However, many in the ear aids are so small they are barely visible – and example is this one that we have reviewed for you – so they are worth considering. Let’s have a brief look at the pros and cons of behind the ear aids:
Pros: cheap, tried and tested, small, effective, wide choice
Cons: uncomfortable for some, too visible for many people, not always the best sound
In the Ear
In the ear hearing aids became available thanks to great advances in micro-electronics, which allowed for these devices to become so small that they fit inside the ear, yet still provide good results. They are favoured by people who either find the behind the ear model uncomfortable, or who want a hearing aid that nobody will know exists. There are plenty available at sensible prices – this is one we have reviewed so you can get an idea of what they are about – so you have a wide choice of different makes and models.
Many in the ear style aids benefit from digital technology, and they can be far more comfortable to wear than conventional aids. They are easy to use and fit, and you are usually provided with a choice of tips so you can tailor yours to fit your ear in the best possible way. However, some wearers report a problem – with certain models – that as the microphone is also in the ear, it is not a receptive as the behind the ear model, so careful research is required. The benefits and pitfalls of this type of aid include:
Pros: very small, can’t be seen, often digital, affordable, comfortable
Cons: not always the best sound
Digital Hearing Aids
Digital technology exists in many walks of life, and when it comes to hearing aids, there is no doubt that the biggest advances in quality have been made using digital sound processing. Digital aids come in both in the ear and behind the ear forms, and we strongly recommend you check them out further. For your information, here’s one we have reviewed for you.
The digital technology brings with it several major benefits that people with mild to moderate hearing loss will appreciate. To begin with, digital processing means clearer and brighter sound – none of the muffled speech that you get with the standard type of aid – and also has the ability to cut out unnecessary background noise, so is a perfect choice for those social occasions where you would normally struggle.
Further advantages include the fact that some digital aids can be specifically programmed to suit your level and range of hearing loss. Bear in mind, however, that most come pre-programmed to an ‘average’ level for ease of use, so may not be right for you. Put simply, if we were asked to recommend an outstanding feature of a hearing aid you should consider, we would recommend the digital aid first and foremost, as it promises better sound quality and a major reduction in feedback. Let’s recap the pros and cons:
Pros: sound quality, clarity, programmable, no feedback, deals with background noise
Cons: can be expensive, some are pre-programmed, uses batteries quickly
If you want a simple, easy to use and maintenance-free hearing aid that simply makes things louder – for watching TV or at the cinema for example – you may want to consider one of the many non-digital hearing aids that remain available. They don’t offer the excellent quality you will get from a more sophisticated digital model, but they are very cheap – we reviewed this one that you can buy for not much more than £10, and it does the job adequately.
Non-digital aids are essentially the same as those that have been around for many years, and they come as behind or in-the-ear models, so you have a wide choice of hearing aids that may interest you. They don’t necessarily offer the clarity that you get from a digital aid, and won’t be much good at dealing with background noise, but for one-to-one conversations, and for people with minor hearing loss, you can’t go wrong at the price. Let’s check out the pros and cons of these devices.
Pros: very cheap, simple technology, available in both styles
Cons: not great sound, not great clarity
Other Types of Hearing Aid
As shown above, hearing aids come in many forms, and there are other types of aid that you can choose from apart from those listed. There is a growing trend, for example, for bone anchored aids, but these are not commercially available and require minor surgery. However, there is one area of technology that will undoubtedly make an impact in hearing aids in the near future – Bluetooth.
Bluetooth hearing aids are becoming popular thanks to the clever implementation of this very neat and usable technology, and while not yet mainstream, we have little doubt that they will become more prevalent and popular in the near future. Coupled with digital technology, the potential for Bluetooth to change the way hearing aids are used and viewed is great, so it will be worth keeping an eye on how things develop.
Which Do You Need?
If you are looking to buy a hearing aid, it really is a buyer’s market. There are so many manufacturers with a choice of models that you will need to look very carefully to make sure you get the right one. Our reviews will help, so we recommend you check them out, but here are a few tips that you may want to consider:
Buy the Best
This really should go without saying: if you want the best sound quality, buy the very best model you can afford. This is, after all, an investment that is designed to help you live a better life, so it should not be purchased on a whim.
Have a Test
We also recommend that, although it is not necessary with many off-the-shelf hearing aids that come pre-set and programmed, you see a medical practitioner and get your hearing tested if you suspect you have problems, as you may need something more powerful than one of the readily available aids.
Seriously, this will be the best decision you make. Yes, you will pay more for a digital aid – quite a bit more for the best ones – but you will benefit from better quality performance to a degree that you may not believe possible. Check our reviews of digital aids for more information.
These are just a handful of the possible tips we could give you, and we should also say that you also need to pay attention to maintenance when it comes to hearing aids. They don’t need a lot, but there is some essential stuff you need to keep on top of. Here’s a bit on some of the accessories that can help you keep your hearing aid in tip-top condition.
Hearing Aid Accessories
Keeping your hearing aid clean and in good working order is essential if you are to get the best length of service out of it, so we recommend that – in addition to changing your batteries on a regular basis, as once they start to lose charge you will notice the difference – you have a look at some of these accessories:
Acu-Life 5-in-1 Cleaning Tool
This handy little kit comes with five tools that make it compatible with all types of hearing aid. You get a brush for general cleaning, a clever pick for removing debris from the microphone areas – a common problem – plus a tool for cleaning out the tubes. You also get a device that helps open the battery door and a magnet for picking up the batteries – a useful item as they can be tricky – and it all comes in a very neat little carry case that folds away small enough to fit in a pocket. At less than £10 it is a worthwhile investment.
Cerustop Wax Guards
Wax build-up is an inevitable problem with both behind and in-the-ear hearing aids, and can be exaggerated when the ear canal is blocked by the ear piece or the aid itself. The answer is to invest in wax guards, which keep your hearing aid free of wax and in top working order. These clever items are an essential part of your hearing aid kit and you can buy a good set for around a tenner.
Hearing Aid Cleaning Wire
One of the biggest problems with behind the ear hearing aids is that the connecting tube will attract moisture. This needs to be cleaned out, or it will affect the sound quality. This handy cleaning wire comes in a pack of 10. And at under a fiver is certainly worth buying.
Acu-Life Dri-Eze Dehumidifier
As above, moisture is a problem with hearing aids, and not just in the tubes. If moisture gets into the electronics it can cause serious problems, so this very neat and usable device is worth looking at. You put your hearing aid in it when not in use, close the lid, and it removes any moisture that may have built up – without the need for batteries or any power source. We recommend this one very highly, and at around £5 it is worth the investment.
Hearing Aid Carry Case
If your hearing aid does not come with a case, you should buy one, especially if you want to carry it around with you for occasional use when needed. This hard black case has a zip closure and is designed for any hearing aid. It is tough and compact and will fit easily in a pocket or bag, and at less than £3 is certainly a useful accessory.
As we have shown, there is a great variety of hearing aids and accessories on the market. We hope that this buyers guide has at least helped you understand the choices you face. Meanwhile, why not check out some of our in-depth reviews for more information?