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Demystifying Hearing Aid Terminology

calendar-icon October 1, 2020
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While there have always been technical terms associated with Audiology, the number of those terms has increased in recent years as technology is changing at a faster rate than ever before. Even audiologists struggle to fully understand all the technological terms associated with the advancements in hearing aids. This article’s purpose is to serve as a cheat sheet for you at whatever stage you are on your hearing aid journey.  

Digital– In the late 1990s, digital technology caused big changes in the way we used many everyday items, and hearing aids were no exception. Digital technology in hearing aids involves using a microchip that turns sound into numbers, makes calculations on those numbers (these calculations are determined through careful research) and turning those calculations back into sound. This technology allows the audiologist to program the hearing aid’s computerized settings to fit the patient’s distinct hearing loss. It also allows hearing aids to enhance soft sounds that are below the threshold of hearing, and decrease, or compress, loud sounds for comfort. Analog hearing aids lacked this ability to compress loud sounds, which caused discomfort for many analog hearing aid users. Analog hearing aids are no longer available, and unless you are purchasing something from the internet, you can be assured you have digital hearing aids.

Variable programming – Any hearing aid you find today should be both digital and programmable.  Hearing aid programming permits your hearing care provider to adjust the sound settings of the hearing aid by using computer software. Hearing aid programming also allows the patient to adjust their own hearing aid’s sound quality settings by using a button on the hearing aid or an app on their smartphone. This is commonly used for patients so they can manually adjust the sound quality in a noisy restaurant or when listening to music.

Bluetooth technology – Bluetooth is a wireless transmission protocol using short range radio frequencies. For hearing aids, this technology permits the hearing aid to communicate wirelessly with a number of devices, including mobile phones, computers, audio players, and other compatible products.

Streaming-Sound being sent, or transmitted, from one device to another. This is usually done using Bluetooth technology. For example, sound from a cell phone is transmitted, or streamed, directly into a person’s hearing aids.

Pair/pairing-The process of establishing a connection between two Bluetooth devices. For example, to pair a hearing aid with a phone, the phone’s Bluetooth setting is opened, put into “discovery” or “searching” mode, and the hearing aid usually must be turned off and then back on for the cell phone to detect the hearing aid. The phone then asks for confirmation that you want to pair the hearing aid to the phone. Once this is confirmed, your hearing aids are paired to your smartphone and your hearing aids will be able to stream sound from your phone!

Telecoil – A telecoil is a coil located within the hearing aid that uses electromagnetic reception of sound. This type of sound transmission enables the hearing aid to receive sound directly from assistive listening devices and hearing loops installed in public venues. These hearing loops are not as common in the US as they are in other countries, however a venue that has a hearing loop system allows anyone with a telecoil in their hearing aid to receive sound directly from that venue’s stereo system. Usually the patient must use their multi-memory button to access their telecoil feature. All major US airports are “looped”. The universal symbol for a hearing loop system is pictured below:

Noise reduction – A functionality that assists the hearing aid to differentiate speech sounds from background noise, leading to the augmentation of speech and the inhibition of distracting noise.

App-A software application that runs in a mobile phone, developed specifically for use on small, wireless computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, rather than desktop or laptop computers. Hearing aid manufacturers now have a variety of apps, some of which can be used with hearing aids. Functions of these apps includes allowing remote control of the hearing aid’s volume and sound settings, GPS tracking of the hearing aid in case it gets misplaced, and even offering telehealth care with your audiologist.  

Channels/bands/filters: Typically, these three terms are all describing the same feature within a hearing aid. Sound is a combination of pitches, and when the pitches are filtered out independently of each other and allowed to be adjusted separately of each other, it results in a better sound quality for the patient. Hearing losses are not equal-each pitch will be affected differently for each patient.  While more channels/bands/filters result in better sound, studies have consistently shown that there is less impact on sound quality when the number of channels exceeds eight.  Your hearing healthcare provider will be able to guide you towards the right choice of technology so that they are able to accurately fit your hearing aid to your hearing loss.

Feedback-That squeal of someone’s hearing aid in church? That is acoustic feedback, which is now a nuisance of the past. Acoustic feedback is the re-amplification of amplified sound, which results in a squealing hearing aid and an embarrassed hearing aid user. Thankfully, today’s hearing aid manufacturers have resolved this issue through computer processing technology. Thank goodness!

Artificial Intelligence (AI)- This technology involves computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Currently, we are seeing hearing aids that are able to detect if you have fallen, and text your emergency contact a notification. One manufacturer also offers a hearing aid that can track your steps.

Nanocoating-Also known as a ceramic coating, it is the process of applying a surface layer that repels dry particles, water, oil and dirt. All manufacturers are using this technology as a way of increasing hearing aid moisture and dust resistance.

Receiver in the canal-This term refers to a style of hearing aid, not a technology. Now the most common style worn in the US, it is designed with the bulk of the hearing aid behind the ear, in a compact, attractive casing, with a thin wire that extends from the device behind the ear into the ear canal.  A round, rubber tip is fit on the end of the tubing to ensure the aid stays in place inside the ear canal.  This style is best for people with normal hearing in the bass tones and hearing loss in the treble, or high pitch tones.

We hope you found this article informative. If you have concerns about your hearing or have questions regarding your current hearing aids, we are here to help and would love to talk with you! Call our office for a free consultation to discuss hearing aid technology at 712-775-2625. 


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