Hearing aid technology has come a long way since the very first electric hearing aids were introduced to the market in 1898, and even earlier when ear trumpets were invented in the 18th century. Back in the day, the original hearing aid – called the Akoupone – used a carbon transmitter to enhance sound by using an electric current to boost a weak signal to a strong signal. Over time, as telephone and microphone technology became more commonplace and more advanced, hearing aid technology has also taken some massive leaps forward. This article takes a more detailed look at just how modern hearing aids work.
The Purpose and Functionality of Hearing Aid Technology
Hearing aids are used by people of all ages who may have experienced hearing loss from birth or developed it later in life. They help to pick up sounds that might not otherwise be audible, processing the sounds and transmitting them back to the ear. There are several different types of hearing aids available on the market, each with their own subtle differences.
However, all come with five components that are standard for all types of hearing aids:
• Microphone – Picks up the sound waves from the immediate area and converts them into digital signals
• Microchip – Essentially works as the hearing aid’s ‘control centre
• Amplifier – Boosts and enhances the digital signals
• Battery – Provides the hearing aid with power
• Receiver – Transforms the digital signals into vibrations that travel through the inner ear to the brain, where they register as sounds
These five components can be found in both digital and analog hearing aids. But how do these hearing aids differ from each other, and how do you determine which is best for your hearing needs? Let’s explore further.
Analog Hearing Aids
The precursor to the digital hearing aid, analog hearing aids essentially use much of the same technology to pick up and transmit sound. Where they differ is in the amplification of the sounds. An analog hearing aid will use the built in microphone to capture soundwaves, transforming them into electricity. They will then amplify those electrified waves, delivering louder forms of those soundwaves to your ears exactly as they are. Analog hearing aids often include a feature called ‘automatic gain control’ which can determine which sounds don’t need amplification (i.e. loud sounds like busy traffic) and which sounds do, therefore responding accordingly.
Digital Hearing Aids
Compared to the relatively simplistic way that sound is amplified in an analog hearing aid, its digital counterpart is significantly more advanced. Digital hearing aids feature a silicon chip that includes millions of minute electrical components. These components constantly process the sounds that they take in and enhance those sounds so they become clearer and more audible to the hearing aid wearer. The processed sounds are delivered to the wearer at a level appropriate enough so they can clearly hear and understand them. The digital technology also enables the hearing aid to determine which sounds need to be amplified (e.g. people talking, the television) and those that don’t. To work out which hearing aid best suits your needs, make an appointment with your local qualified audiologist for a hearing check.
By Sophia Addison
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