The ability to hear is a precious gift that many people take for granted. Those who suffer from hearing loss, whether from a broken eardrum or another cause, often need help in the form of hearing aid to let them experience the world around them in the same way as those without trouble hearing.
We’ve come a long way since the days of the ear trumpet, a rudimentary hearing device dating back to the 1600s. Modern hearing technology is far more effective and discreet than the earliest solutions for hearing aids, and while many of the types of hearing aids available now can be expensive, many options for affordable hearing aids are available and can work just as well for many types of hearing problems and levels of hearing loss.
With so many different types of hearing aids out there, it’s important that consumers find the hearing aid that works best for them — both for their particular hearing needs and for their budget. Whether you’re new to the world of hearing aids and wondering just how do hearing aids work, or you’re just doing some additional research on how to choose a hearing aid or buy hearing aids online, this guide is designed to help you to learn more about hearing aids and to be able to determine which of the many types of hearing aids is right for you. And remember: The best cheap hearing aid for one person won’t necessarily be the best one for you.
WHO NEEDS HEARING AIDS?
If you or someone you love needs hearing aids, you’re far from alone. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, about 28.8 million U.S. adults could benefit from using hearing aids. For an even better idea of how widespread the problem is, check out these other statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:
- About 2 or 3 children out of every 1,000 born in the U.S. have a detectable level of hearing loss in at least one ear.
- Among adults ages 20 to 69, men are nearly two times as likely as women to have hearing loss.
- Disabling hearing loss occurs among adults at the following rates: Nearly 2 of adults ages 45 to 54, about 8.5 percent of adults ages 55 to 64, almost 25 percent of adults ages 65 to 74, and close to 50 adults ages 75 and older.
- Only 30 percent of adults age 70 and older who could benefit from using a hearing aid has used one.
- Only 16 percent of adults ages 20 to 69 who could benefit from using a hearing aid has used one.
In cases of any hearing loss, it can be a good idea to meet with a medical professional to determine a plan to address your hearing care needs. However, if you already know you or a loved one has hearing loss and you would like to purchase online hearing aids, you have the ability to do so even without a hearing screening or prescription.
This is possible thanks to the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, passed in August 2017, which made it so hearing aids could be much more accessible and affordable for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Now anyone can purchase affordable hearing aids online without needing a prescription or even a hearing test.
But being able to easily order online hearing aids is only part of the equation, and the question remains: Which hearing aids are right for you?
TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS IN HEARING AIDS
Going back to the ear trumpets of old, it’s amazing how far hearing aid technology has come. Over the centuries, inventors worked to make hearing aids ever more unnoticeable, and while some efforts were more aesthetically pleasing than others, the sound quality was oftentimes sacrificed. However, gradual improvements over time continued, especially once electricity, batteries, transistors and other technology came on the scene.
In the past thirty years, in particular, hearing aids have made tremendous leaps forward. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the vast majority of hearing aid manufacturers made the leap from analog technology to digital technology, allowing for huge improvements in both the appearance and the capabilities of hearing aids. Some models are now virtually invisible when worn, and even the smallest hearing devices have become more effective than ever at improving users’ hearing.
How can hearing aids be so small and yet so effective? As technology has advanced, electronics ranging from computers to phones have become smaller and more streamlined. Computer chips are continuously becoming smaller and more powerful, allowing their hearing aid housing to do the same. These chips also allow for more sophisticated hearing aids that can perform in ways that better mimic natural hearing, giving their wearers a true sense of restored hearing ability.
HOW DO HEARING AIDS WORK?
The goal with all hearing aids is for them to amplify sound so their wearers can better hear the world around them. But while the general goal is the same, the specifics can vary quite a lot, depending on the model and whether you decide to wear two hearing aids to better define binaural hearing. Bearing that in mind, if you’re wondering, “How do hearing aids work?” it’s important to understand that the basics are the same across all models of digital hearing aids.
Digital hearing aids first gather sound through a microphone. The sound is then translated into a digital code that the processing chip of a hearing aid can adjust in a number of ways to enhance what the wearer hears in the end. In addition to amplifying sounds and providing clear sound streaming, digital hearing aids can reduce the volume of surrounding noise, prevent annoying feedback, and automatically switch between listening programs based on the sound environment the wearer is in — including settings with lots of background noise, or when the wearer is listening to music or on the telephone. Never before have hearing aids allowed such intuitive sound amplification or easy transitions through different sound environments for their wearers.
HEARING AID PARTS AND FEATURES
Today’s hearing aids come in several different styles and sizes offered by a great number of manufacturers. Different styles have different capabilities when it comes to producing sound in a way that feels natural to the wearer. Additionally, some hearing aid parts can make different things possible; some new hearing aids have multiple microphones to gather sound from different angles. As the sounds are being gathered, an amplifier works to process the sounds, and then a tiny speaker transmits the resulting sound to the ear without damaging the eardrum.
Aside from the functional aspect of hearing aids, there’s an aesthetic appearance. Most hearing aids manufactured today are small and weigh very little, and they can fit either within the outer ear, inside the ear canal or behind the ear. Some people prefer their hearing aids to be as close to invisible as possible so they go unnoticed by others. Other wearers are more concerned with getting the best performance possible or finding the most affordable hearing aids that can still do the job well.
Another aspect to consider between different hearing aid models is how their many hearing aid parts will be powered. The cost of new hearing aids goes far beyond what you pay for the devices themselves; buying batteries over the life of a hearing aid greatly adds to the total cost, and it’s something that should be taken into account. If you’re already spending thousands of dollars on a hearing aid, buying batteries can be painful.
That being said, battery capabilities vary in hearing aids. These days, most hearing aids operate on minuscule disposable batteries, known as zinc-air button batteries. They contain no mercury and become activated once exposed to air — a factory sticker keeps them from becoming active until they’re ready to be used. The lifespan of these batteries varies based on the battery itself as well as the model of hearing aid it is powering. Generally speaking, the smaller batteries that power the littlest hearing aids have an average lifespan of 3 to 7 days, while the larger batteries for models such as the behind-the-ear hearing aids can last between 9 and 20 days.
Rechargeable hearing aid models also exist, but they have their drawbacks, among them the fact that a single charge doesn’t come close to matching the battery life offered by a single battery, not to mention they cost significantly more upfront than their battery-powered counterparts.
TYPES OF HEARING AIDS
The different types of hearing aids available on the online hearing aid market today are designed to fit different wearers’ lifestyles, levels of hearing loss, desired appearance, and budget. Which model is the best cheap hearing aid can differ from person to person. These are the most common types of hearing aids widely available, from smallest to largest:
- Invisible-in-canal (IIC) — As small as hearing aids come, in-canal hearing aids nestle into the ear canal for as discreet an appearance as possible.
- Completely-in-canal (CIC) — Like IIC hearing aids, these tiny hearing aids are worn within the ear canal and aren’t immediately visible to others.
- Mic-in-helix (MIH) — The bulk of this hearing aid sits within the ear canal, though the microphone extends via a see-through tube to the outer ear. Still very discreet, this hearing aid is effective at producing near-natural sound for the wearer.
- In-the-canal (ITC) — Larger than its CIC counterpart, this style of hearing aid manages to be fairly discreet while also being easier to operate than its smaller siblings thanks to its ability to feature control buttons. Because they’re larger, they also can hold larger batteries and therefore offer longer battery life.
- In-the-ear (ITE) — These hearing aids run larger than all the ones before, yet still manage to fit within the outer ear while offering more adjustable control options than any of the smaller models. They can work for hearing loss owing to their larger capacity for batteries that can handle a more powerful receiver.
- Receiver-in-ear (RIE) — The components of an RIE-style hearing aid are split, with most of it being housed in a casing that rests behind the ear. A see-through tube connects this portion to a tiny speaker that sits within the ear canal. More natural sound quality and an overall discreet appearance are two majors benefits to this style of hearing aid.
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) — Among the largest of hearing aids available today, BTE models are still plenty discreet. The hearing aid itself sits in the casing behind the ear with a see-through tube connecting it to the ear canal. BTE hearing aids are less expensive than all the other models and work for wearers anywhere on the spectrum of hearing loss.
Some people opt for just one hearing aid, but to better define binaural hearing it can be preferable to use two.
FINDING AFFORDABLE HEARING AIDS
Though there are many options for hearing aids available on the market today, and you can easily buy hearing aids online, not all of them are necessarily “affordable.” The most sophisticated, custom-built models can cost thousands of dollars, which becomes even more expensive once you factor in that many carries only a limited warranty that won’t help if a hearing aid becomes lost.
Aside from the model of hearing aids, another factor driving up the cost is the manufacturer or distributor through which they are made available. Larger companies tend to charge more for their products because they have a greater amount of overhead to cover, plus their name recognition often means people will pay more because they believe they’re getting a superior product just because they’ve heard of the company, even though the hearing aids themselves aren’t any better than the ones produced by smaller companies.
Unfortunately, according to AARP, many people with hearing loss opt not to get hearing aids because of how expensive they are. Some hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, and hearing aids, in general, are not covered by most insurance plans or Medicare, leaving people to foot the bill themselves or risk further damaging the eardrum with poor hearing solutions.
Along with being prohibitively expensive, too many hearing aids are also easy to misplace due to their small size. While many warranties will repair or replace a damaged hearing aid, very few will replace one that’s gone missing, and most will charge a hefty replacement fee to do it.Companies do exist that offer affordable hearing aids at a fraction of the cost of what others are charging; AHA Advanced Hearing Technology is one of them. We believe affordable hearing aids should be available to everyone and not break the bank to replace, which is why we offer affordable hearing aids at a fraction of the cost other companies charge. If you’re looking to buy cheap hearing aids online and get the best value for your money, check out our selection of hearing aids in a variety of styles with unbeatable prices.