If you or someone in your care has a hearing impairment, you may be wondering what treatment options are available to you. Your healthcare professional will probably explain the different types of hearing aid you can use. But you likely want to do your own research and make sure you have all the facts. Most people are aware of the hearing aids that you wear in or outside your ear, but there are several variations that can be difficult to navigate. And on top of normal hearing aids, there are other types of device, such as bone anchored hearing aids, middle ear implants and cochlear implants. To help you make sense of what is available and which is best for you or a family member, read about the different types below.
Conventional Hearing Aids
Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing use a range of hearing aids to help them hear, whether they were born hard of hearing or suffered hearing loss later in life. Everyone has seen someone wearing a hearing aid, but you may not know that there are lots of different options for different levels of hearing loss. Some hearing aids go inside the ear canal or the ear while others sit outside the ear. This means that some hearing aids are more visible than others. Which one is right for you depends on your level or hearing loss, how discreet you want your hearing aid to be, and how comfortable and effective you find it.
Bone Anchored Hearing Aids (BAHA)
One option for people who can’t use conventional hearing aids is a bone anchored hearing aid, or BAHA. These are used when someone has conductive hearing loss, when sounds are unable to pass freely to the inner ear. To fit a BAHA, the person has an operation to fix a screw to the skull, onto which the hearing aid is clipped. Sound then travels directly to the cochlea by vibrating the mastoid bone.
Cochlear implants are recommended for people with profound sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, when hearing aids can’t help. The implant is fitted under the skin behind the person’s ear. It consists of several parts, including an external processor, receiver coil, electronics and electrodes. Companies like Sonova are working to improve cochlear implant technology. You can have one or two implants fitted, but you must be assessed to see if they will help you first. It’s recommended that anyone with a cochlear implant is vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. There is some evidence that an implant could raise your chance of getting pneumococcal meningitis.
Middle Ear Implants
A middle ear implant is surgically attached to the hearing bones to make them vibrate. If you can’t use a conventional hearing aid but a bone anchored hearing aid would not help your level of hearing loss, a middle ear implant could be an option for you.
There are also other options for improving hearing, such as an auditory brainstem implant. And, of course, not forgetting lip reading and sign language, which can help deaf and hard of hearing people to communicate.