Know the Basics
About This Website
We want to delight and educate consumers through a platform where information is readily available and easy to digest. The hearing aid market feels a lot like the car market, and we are confident a more informed consumer will better engage with the seller and come to a more efficient outcome.
The ubiquity of information brought about by the Internet has shifted the balance in many industries in favor of a more informed consumer. Unfortunately, the hearing aid market has not yet caught up with the times. Although the information is available, online resources are confusing, and the hearing aid purchasing process is frustrating. Our product reviews from both users and experts combined with other resources will help make this process easier to navigate.
Check out our Hearing Loss Overview section, Hearing Aid Terms Glossary and FAQs to learn more about hearing loss. Other important sources of information include the Better Hearing Institute and the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Hearing Aid Features & Terms Glossary
Below are some of the most common terms and topics you'll see when you research hearing aids. Brands don't help the already complex process with their array of product and feature names. Information is often too vague or too technical. The bottom line is to ask your hearing professional any question you have, and don't be afraid to ask why he/she believes one thing over another!
Programs: Hearing aid professionals use the device's accompanying software to give it a set of instructions that are appropriate for different types of listening environments based on the individual's hearing loss. For example, one program may be set for when you're in a quiet area and are watching TV, while another may be for when you're in a restaurant. Typically programs are activated with the push of a button. Hearing aids typically are compatible with "up to" a certain amount of programs. The more technologically advanced the device, the more programs the product can accommodate. Just because there are more programs doesn't mean a hearing aid is "better". It all depends on your individual needs.
Directionality: This implies that the hearing aid comes with a series of directional microphones. Directional microphones help suppress background noise, and focus on sound coming from a specific direction. These are helpful in complex listening environments.
Feedback: This usually refers to an annoying whistling noise that can be produced when the device's microphone picks up its own output. Many devices tout "Feedback Suppression" or "Feedback Cancellation". The former reduces feedback by controlling the frequency where the feedback occurred. Feedback Cancellation means the device produces an output that's opposite the feedback to train your ear and "cancel" the annoying sounds.
Tinnitus Relief: Tinnitus is the presence of a ringing in the ears, and is a common symptom of conditions that result in hearing loss, and many devices claim to have the capability to help relieve wearers of this symptom.
Channels: In layman's terms, the more channels there are, the more personalized the hearing aid can be. This stems from the fact that many people's hearing losses are unique, as the loss varies at different frequencies. If there are more channels, the hearing aid professional can control the decibel (intensity) gain at more frequencies. The more premium performance levels have more channels, and are typically more expensive. Be sure to ask your hearing aid professional why your hearing profile demands more channels.
Battery: The five battery sizes, in order from smallest to largest, are as follows: 5, 10, 312, 13, 675. Typically, larger batteries have longer lives. These power the hearing aid, and have different storage capacities. Be sure to ask your hearing professional about best practices for care and maintenance of your batteries, and the implications of the battery you use. Also include them in your budget, as some require frequent replacing!
Bandwidth: Many hearing aid brochures give a bandwidth for their device. This means the frequency range that the hearing aid can amplify. Different hearing loss profiles demand different bandwidths.
Earmold: Many devices require an earmold. Your hearing professional will create a custom impression of your ear canal in order to ensure a good fit for your hearing aid. This is why some people say that the shape of your ear canal matters when choosing a hearing aid.
IP Code: This is a rating that rates a device's degree of general protection (from dust, water, etc.). There's some general variance in ratings for different hearing aids, and the top rating is IP69.
Technology Levels: These are also called "performance levels". Most hearing aids have different technology levels. The higher the technology level, the more "bells and whistles" the hearing aid has. That can mean programs, channels or other features.
Hearing Loss Overview
Hearing loss can be an emotional and financial burden for anyone. Over 30 million people in the United States have hearing loss of some degree, and less than one-fourth of people that would benefit from amplification end up pursuing it. Many hearing professionals have noted that the longer you wait to pursue hearing aids, the longer it takes for your brain to adapt to them – so the sooner the better. But it's important to be prepared before you dive into the complex hearing aid purchase process.
The two most common causes of hearing loss are noise-induced hearing loss and age-related hearing loss (in doctor-speak—‘Presbycusis'). Other less common causes of hearing loss include genetic predispositions, autoimmune disorders, head trauma or ototoxic medicine (read about ototoxicity here).
There are two different types of hearing loss: conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. While the former involves an outer ear or middle ear disorder, the latter concerns the inner ear, nerve and beyond. Some have a combination of both types, and that's called "mixed" hearing loss. If you're like most people, you probably didn't even know that there were three parts to the ear! Check out a nice picture and description here.
Now that you know that, it's important to understand that there are five different degrees of hearing loss. They are as follows: 1. Mild 2. Moderate 3. Moderately Severe 4. Severe 5. Profound. The National Hearing Test has a good description here. The visual description of your hearing loss is called an audiogram. That figure tells the audiologist a lot (but not the whole story), so I'd check out the link above to learn more about how to read the figure.
The image in the link above has two implications that are important for you, as a hearing aid consumer, to understand. First, not all hearing aids can accommodate every degree of hearing loss. That's why our product pages show what levels of hearing loss the product can accommodate. Second, it's important to look at the audiogram again. On the vertical axis is the decibel (unit of intensity) and on the horizontal axis is the hertz (unit of frequency). Not only can hearing loss vary in intensity, but it can also vary in frequency. This unfortunately complicated idea means that everyone's hearing loss is unique. Therefore, there is no "one-size fits all" approach to hearing aids. Some hearing aids are better than others, but you are going to have to work closely with your hearing professional to ensure your hearing aid is personalized to your hearing profile (what your audiogram looks like).
Now that we have that covered, a quick note on hearing aids. These devices can't restore your hearing back to normal, but they can drastically increase your quality of life. Also, you can't expect them to feel amazing on Day 1. It takes time to adapt, and hearing professionals encourage you to act as soon as you think you may have hearing loss. Some common signals include your spouse or friends complaining about the volume of the television or your ability to hear them in complex hearing environments like restaurants or parties.
The process of dealing with hearing loss is not easy. We hope that our efforts will lead you to an appropriate set of hearing aids, and allow you to feel confident in engaging with audiologists and hearing aid specialists.
We stress that it's important to clarify any questions you have with your hearing aid professional. Below are some of the most common questions we've encountered. If there's something you'd like the answer to and can't be found below, please contact us.
Why should I buy a new hearing aid?
Although a hearing aid cannot cure hearing loss, it can help someone with hearing loss come closer to normalcy.
How should I choose a brand?
Many brands make similar broad claims that make it hard to differentiate two from each other. On the other hand, a lot of the language brands use is so technical that it's hard to interpret what the websites and brochures are really trying to say. Combine that with extensive product lines with different names and different styles, and you have a level of complexity that the average consumer isn't used to. Navigating the sea of hearing aid products isn't easy.
What is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid specialist?
An audiologist is a healthcare professional that specializes in diagnosing and treating hearing and balance disorders. While audiologists have a master's or doctoral degree, a hearing aid specialist only needs a high school education. Having said that, hearing aid specialists along with audiologist must complete and pass a thorough certification process and must hold a state license to practice (maybe link to state policies for licensure here?). Another difference lies in the tests that may be conducted. A hearing aid specialist can perform audiometric tests, but cannot perform the wide variety of important diagnostic exams that an audiologist can.
How are Beltone and Miracle Ear different?
These two hearing aid brands are different in reference to how their retail outlets operate. Beltone dispensers only sell Beltone hearing aids. Miracle Ear dispensers only sell Miracle Ear hearing aids. Similarly, dispensers not affiliated with Beltone or Miracle Ear cannot sell Beltone or Miracle Ear hearing aids.
How are hearing aids priced?
The dominant pricing model in the hearing aid industry is called "bundled". That means that the steep price consumers pay for hearing aids isn't just for the hearing aids, themselves. The dispenser incorporates other factors into the price, including their services. Therefore, your follow-up visits are usually included in the initial price. These follow-up visits are encouraged to make sure you're adapting correctly to your device.
How do hearing aids work?
Hearing aids are amplification devices. Most hearing aids sold today are digital, which means that the sound wave going into the device is manipulated appropriately so the wearer can understand the output better. Digital hearing aids allow the dispenser to "fit" the device.
What does it mean to "fit" a hearing aid?
When people say that an audiologist or hearing aid specialist fits a hearing aid, they mean that the professional is customizing it. Digital hearing aids come with software that allows the hearing professional to adjust the device's output at specific frequencies. Hearing professionals encounter a wide variety of hearing profiles, so this advanced technology allows for personalization.
What are the different levels of hearing loss?
There are five different levels of hearing loss: Mild, Moderate, Moderately Severe, Severe and Profound. Audiometric exams help hearing professionals determine the extent of the hearing loss.
Different hearing aids are appropriate for different levels of hearing loss. Typically, smaller hearing aids, such as those that fit in the canal, are not suitable for profound hearing loss.
Are small, "invisible" hearing aids right for me?
Well, it depends. Typically, the smallest hearing aids are not suitable for those with severe or profound hearing loss. In addition, the smaller hearing aids are harder to maintain, and require more precision (which is why dexterity is important).