What is a hearing aid?
Hearing aids come in different types, shapes and sizes. In basic terms they have a built-in microphone that picks up sound, which is processed electronically in the hearing aid. The resulting ‘signals’ are then passed on to a receiver – like a tiny loudspeaker – where they are converted back into louder sounds that you can hear.
Why wear hearing aids?
Hearing aids will help you hear everyday sounds like the telephone and make it much easier to follow conversations. Your confidence in talking to people should improve and everyday or social occasions should become less of a struggle. You will also be able to enjoy listening to music, the TV and radio again. If you have tinnitus, you may find it disturbs you less when you wear hearing aids. Some hearing aids will also enable you to hear more clearly again in background noise.
Will I only need one?
Most mammals have two ears to receive sounds from each side of the head, technically known as binaural hearing. The human ear is the most advanced stereophonic wonder known to man. With all its amazing accuracy and versatility, it provides the listener with space perception, depth perception and balance. Hearing does not happen in your ears it happens in your brain. The brain requires reliable information from your ears so that it can decipher sound. Using just one hearing aid when two are needed reduces the brain’s chances of hearing and understanding considerably, as well as removes your ability to perceive depth and space. Binaural hearing allows the brain to process sound more precisely by providing the following benefits:
● Localisation – Better directionality enabling wearers to better locate where sounds are coming from. Our brain instinctively locates a sound source by measuring tiny differences in duration and intensity between each ear. This allows the ears to provide 360º of perception, something unique to our auditory sense. Using one hearing aid when two are need reduces the ability of the brain to localise sound as the diagram shows.
● Improved listening in noisy situations – Two ears working together give is the ability to isolate one sound from another. By perceiving differences in duration, pitch and loudness the brain can select a specific sound or voice and concentrate on it, even in the presence of background noise. Voice discrimination in a noisy environment is difficult with two ears, when this is reduced to just one ear the task becomes virtually impossible.
● One is less than half – One ear working less effectively than the other can have a significant impact on daily life. Hearing with one ear is like trying to see with one eye, it’s possible but not as effective. That’s why people do not tend to wear monocles anymore. They became obsolete when eye specialists discovered the importance of balanced vision.
● Less power and better sound quality – when did you last buy a stereo with one speaker? A dual speaker system will provide for a smoother more natural, balanced and sharper sound. Sounds are evenly distributed between the ears so loud sounds are more comfortable and listening is less tiring and stressful.
● Stereo listening – This gives depth perception. Anyone who has enjoyed music, in stereo, compared to mono knows the difference. Mono makes all sounds seem shallow, flat and unnatural. Your brain has the ability to hear in stereo but to do so needs sound input from both ears.
● Preventing ‘auditory deprivation’. Each ear sends different signals to the brain, the two halves of your brain work in harmony to give an auditory image. The ear’s sound signals travel up the brain stem via complicated pathways. Some cross over and eventually stimulate the other side of the brain, while others stimulate the same side. If the two halves are not sharing their signals i.e in the case of one ear being aided and the other not, then the brain gradually loses some of its processing ability due to lack of stimulation, as a result auditory deprivation may occur. It is similar to an unused muscle; the unused auditory fibres may atrophy (waste away) – ‘use it or lose it’.
● Masking tinnitus, studies have shown that wearing hearing aids can have a masking effect on tinnitus. If the tinnitus is in both ears then naturally there will be a better chance of masking if both ears are corrected.
What do hearing aids do?
Some people think hearing aids will make your hearing ‘lazy’. This is not true – hearing aids will not make your hearing worse. But they won’t necessarily make you hear perfectly again, hearing aids cannot restore your hearing back to normal. However, they are what the name suggests – an ‘aid’, so they will work in conjunction with your residual hearing to help improve your overall quality of life.