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Today's Technology

Digital Hearing Aids: An Explanation

The term DIGITAL is used so often today, it can be confusing. When the term "digital" is used while referring to hearing aids, it generally means the hearing aid is 100% digital. In other words, the hearing aid is indeed a "complete computer." 100% digital hearing aids have been commercially available since 1996 and are really wonders of modern technology. They can process sound using incredibly fast speeds such as 100 to 200 million calculations per second. Interestingly, most 100% digital hearing aids have analog components, such as the microphone and the receiver. 100% digital's transform analog information into a digital signal and process the sound to maximize the speech information you want to hear, while minimizing the amplification of sounds you do not want to hear.

Today's digital technology has evolved from first generation (early models) to fourth generation (state of the art) which allows the audiologist maximal control over the sound quality and the loudness of the hearing aid. More importantly, all of this happens "automatically" and allows the audiologist to tailor or customize your hearing aids to what you want and need to hear. In summary, if you want unsurpassed technology, GO DIGITAL - get 100% digital hearing aids.

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Opening The Doors To Digital Hearing

If you think you've heard and seen everything about digital technology, think again... the hearing industry is just getting started.

It's a very exciting time for the hearing aid industry. There are endless possibilities and they have been sharing these new discoveries over the past four years.

Digital hearing aids are NOT the future anymore, they are the PRESENT. Virtually all the manufacturers have transitioned to completely digital technology. The development of digital hearing technology will continue at a more accelerated pace. The advancements we have seen to date are minuscule compared to what will occur in the not too distant future.

As the capabilities of digital technology are more fully realized, hearing aid acceptance will dramatically increase and sales of hearing aids will reach levels that more accurately reflect their importance in our lives. Emerging digital technologies allow us to develop unique solutions in response to specific complaints by hearing aid users.

Advancements are being made in directional signal processing, noise reduction and feedback cancellation. "Smart" hearing aids will improve understanding of speech in noise and make 'smart' decisions in various environments that will optimize the patient's ability to understand in quiet and noise. Instruments will be created that will be virtually transparent to the patient adding tremendous value to their quality of life.

Why You MUST Seek an Audiologist!

Audiologists have special training in the prevention, diagnosis and non-medical treatment of hearing disorders. Qualifications include: a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited university, state licensure, completion of a full-time internship and passing a demanding competency examination. These professionals belong to several national organizations guided by a Code of Ethics requiring that audiologic services must be provided in an ethical manner. By virtue of their graduate education, professional certification and licensure, audiologists are the most qualified professionals to select and verify the performance of hearing aids.

Most of the hearing aids in the United States are fit by audiologists using the most advanced computerized procedures and state-of-the-art equipment to individualize each fitting. Hearing aid options are fully discussed with patients based on the results of a complete hearing aid evaluation that includes selection and verification of the devices most appropriate for the patient.

Audiologists provide extensive hearing aid services to patients with hearing loss. In addition, audiologists are experts with other types of assistive listening devices (ALDs) including individual and group listening systems, telecommunications devices and personal alerting equipment. Finally, audiologists provide education and training, which are crucial steps in ensuring that patients receive optimum benefit from amplification and communication devices.

Binaural Hearing: Why 2 Hearing Aids

Basically, if you have two ears with hearing loss that could benefit from hearing aids, you need two hearing aids. It is important to realize there are no ''normal'' animals born with only one ear. Simply stated, you have two ears because you need two ears. If we try to amplify sound in only one ear, you cannot expect to hear very well. Even the best hearing aid will sound ''flat'' or ''dull'' when worn in only one ear.

Assuming you have two ears that hear about the same, you can do a little experiment at home to better understand how important binaural hearing is:

First, gently close just one ear, by simply pressing the little fleshy part in the front of your ear canal (the tragus) into your ear canal -- a little. Do not apply pressure, do not hurt yourself. Just close the ear canal to eliminate sound from entering the ear. The idea is to close that ear for about ten minutes while you watch TV or listen to the radio, or speak with your spouse. Then, after a full ten minutes, remove your finger. What an amazing difference!

There are many advantages associated with binaural (two ear) listening and importantly, there are problems associated with wearing only one hearing aid -- if you are indeed a candidate for binaural amplification.

Localization (knowing where the sound came from) is only possible with two ears, and just about impossible with one ear. Localization is not just a sound quality issue; it may also be a safety issue. Think about how important it is to know where warning and safety sounds (sirens, screams, babies crying, etc.) are coming from. Using both ears together also impacts how well you hear in noise because binaural hearing permits you to selectively attend to the desired signal, while ''squelching'' or paying less attention to undesired sounds such as background noise.

Binaural hearing allows a quality of ''spaciousness'' or ''high fidelity'' to sounds, which cannot occur with monaural (one ear) listening. Understanding speech clearly, particularly in challenging and noisy situations, is easier while using both ears. Additionally, using two hearing aids allows people to speak with you from either side of your head - not just your ''good'' side!

People cannot hear well using only one ear. There are studies in the research literature that show that children with one normal ear and one ''deaf'' ear are ten times more likely to repeat a grade as compared to children with two normally hearing ears. Additionally, we know that if you have two ears with hearing impairment, and you wear only one hearing aid, the unaided ear is likely to lose word recognition ability more quickly than the ear wearing the hearing aid.

Tinnitus, Treatment and Management

There are many options for people who experience tinnitus. Some wear hearing aids to help cover up their tinnitus, some wear tinnitus maskers. Additionally, there are combined tinnitus maskers and hearing aids - all in one unit! Some patients require counseling to help them develop strategies to manage their tinnitus. If you've been told ''learn to live with it,'' there are many additional options to explore. Your audiologist is an excellent resource for issues and answers related to tinnitus. Additionally, I recommend that all people with tinnitus visit the American Tinnitus Association website for more information, ideas and strategies concerning tinnitus.