Offered by: John Wilson, B.S., BC-HIS – Blue Ribbon Hearing & Tinnitus Center
When it comes to today’s hearing aids, there are many things to be thankful for, especially when we look back at how hearing aid technology has changed over time. While the first hearing improvement devices were some form of horn, the first electronic versions were huge devices the size of a piece of furniture and required the user to be confined to the room where it was located in order to hear better. Over time devices became smaller, more discreet and more versatile. For a time, body-worn aids with a wire that ran from the device in a pocket up to the patient’s ear allowed the user to be mobile and interact with others in more diverse situations.
However, the early devices were not customizable and essentially amplified all sounds by the same amount while allowing for simple overall volume adjustments. Some individuals had positive results with the devices, but many did not experience the same benefit since each individual has a different type and severity of hearing loss. Often, noisy environments or loud sounds would overwhelm the wearer who would either remove the device or turn it off. Analog adjustments eventually came along and allowed the wearer or a professional to use a small screwdriver to modify the amplification at different levels for a few different frequency ranges.
These adjustments could help the wearer to hear more clearly, but more often than not, the user would have to make volume adjustments to get rid of screeching, whistling or other loud noises due to feedback that was irritating to others. Decreasing the volume to eliminate feedback led to decreased clarity and poorer hearing. Customized earmolds were developed that would make for a much tighter fit to help eliminate some feedback.
As components became smaller, body worn aids were replaced with behind-the-ear hearing aids with custom earmolds, (some were even built into eye glasses) and eventually in-the-ear models were developed, followed by increasingly smaller devices, with the smallest currently available being the invisible-in-the-canal, or IIC. Digital technologies were introduced in the 1990s and improved through the 2000s as programmable devices made customization even better. Billions of dollars have been invested in research and development of prescription hearing aids.
Today’s devices are much smaller and premium technology has made most feedback a thing of the past. The benefits that come from custom individualized fitting in the form of highly-programmable digital hearing aids with custom made earmolds have made it possible for more people than ever to experience better hearing and improved communication. Tinnitus treatment applications have also been added to the devices.
While it is true that mass produced, one-size-fits-most devices are cheaper, customization provides for the best hearing experience. Proper fit and coupling of the hearing aid to the ear of the patient is critical to ensure the best possible hearing. These prescription fit devices require a professional hearing test to ensure accurate programming. And the latest technology in prescription hearing aids allows for the hearing aid to analyze the wearers environment in real time and adjust itself at the touch of a button based on the individual’s actual hearing loss.