A HEARING AID AND ITS LIFESPAN Introduction A hearing aid is a small and portable electronic device that is put in the ear and designed to improve hearing and speech comprehension by making sounds to be audible to a person with hearing problems or loss in hearing. It makes the voices and sounds louder in both quiet and noisy situations and therefore enables people with hearing loss to listen, communicate with others, and participate in regular conversations and other daily activities. Hearing aids are basically useful to people who have a hearing loss that has resulted from damage to the small sensory hair cells located in the inner ear, called the hair cells. This hearing loss is referred to as the sensorineural hearing loss which, is a damage that occurs as a result of aging, diseases, and injuries from noises and other certain medications. The hearing aids are designed customly to meet the needs of the users with various degrees of hearing loss, as examined by the various physicians. The audiologists and the otolaryngologists are the ones who determine whether someone has hearing loss and whether they should use the hearing aids, the types of hearing aids, and the adjustments or setting of the hearing aid based on the level of hearing loss. An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes explicitly in ear, throat and nose disorders and therefore, they examine the cause of hearing loss. The audiologist is a health professional who, in turn, measures the hearing loss and performs hearing tests to asses the type and the degree of loss.   The lifespan of a Hearing Aid For the current types of hearing aids, the average lifespan of the hearing aids is five years. This, however, depends on some various factors and maintenance practices on the hearing aids. Some may even last up to ten years while others may even go below the average lifespan depending on a variety of reasons such as;
  1. The materials used in making hearing aids. The hearing aids are made up of microprocessors, which are designed to be durable. However, the hearing aids may also have plastic parts, silicon, and other metal parts, which might be subject to various degrees of degradation.
To ensure a longer-lasting life, the hearing aids should be coated with nano-coating that is resistant to moisture and dust, therefore, preventing deterioration. They should also be treated regularly to prevent them from impacts and shock.
  1. The frequency of cleaning and maintenance on the hearing aids. The more the hearing aids are cleaned from dust and other dirt such as earwax, the longer the lifespan of the hearing aids.
  • The specific place where the hearing aids are worn.
  1. The storage of the hearing aids. For a longer and optimum lifespan of the hearing aids, they should be stored in clean environments free from dust, moisture, and contaminations.
  2. The style of using the hearing aids
  3. The technological advancements of the hearing aids. Technology advances from now and then bringing in other innovations to be used in hearing aids. The hearing aids that have the most updated technological features may seem to have a longer lifespan than the outdated ones.
  • The individual hearing needs. This determines the settings and adjustments of the hearing aids.
Just like any other device, the hearing aid should, therefore, be maintained to achieve the maximum lifespan of and optimum functionality throughout their period of use.
  • The hearing device should always be kept away from heat and moisture. All electronic devices are not friendly with anything related to water, as this could cause a short circuit and corrosion of the electronic parts of the device.
  • The aids should be cleaned as instructed by the audiologist to remove the earwax and ear drainage as this can cause damage to the hearing aids and therefore ending or reducing their lifespan of operation.
  • When putting on the hearing aids, one should also avoid the use of hairspray and other hair products to prevent them from getting to the hearing aid and causing damage.
  • The hearing aids should be turned off when they are not in use and in cases of dead batteries, they should be replaced immediately. The device and all its accessories, such as the replacement, should be kept away from the reach of children and pets to avoid damage, loss and misuse.
How it works The hearing aid has three main parts; being the microphone, speaker, and amplifier. It receives the sound through the microphone and converts the sound waves to electrical signals then sends them to the amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the electrical signals to the set volume and sends them to the ear through the speaker. Sounds are basically vibrations of air at a specified frequency that enters the ear and converted into neural signals. The surviving hair cells, therefore, detect the amplified vibrations and converts them into neural signals which are passed along to the brain. Hearing aids are therefore not effective and are also not recommended or applicable to people whose inner ear is too damaged to the point that there are no surviving hair cells. The hearing aids have the practical limits to the amounts of amplifications that they can provide and therefore if these limits are crossed, the hearing aids may not be effective because even larger vibrations from the hearing aids will eventually not be converted into neural signals when the inner ear is too damaged, and there are no surviving hair cells. Depending on the electronics used, hearing aids works differently as per the two main types used being the digital and the analog hearing aids. The analog aids receive the sound waves and convert them into electric signals, which are then amplified. They are also referred to as adjustable hearing aids because they are built and customized to meet the specific need of the individual users based on the recommended specifications by the audiologist. They have more that one program and settings where the audiologist can program them to be set according to the various listening environments from small and quiet places too crowded and open areas such as theatres and stadiums. Analog programmable circuitry is usually used in these types of hearing aids which makes them less expensive than digital hearing aids. The digital hearing aids, on the other hand, receives the sound waves and converts them into numerical codes that are similar to the binary codes of a computer before amplifying them. These codes include all the information about the pitch of the sound and the loudness, and therefore, the hearing aid is programmed to amplify some frequencies more or less than others depending on the code. They use digital circuitry, which gives the audiologists more flexibility when it comes to adjusting the aid to the needs of the users according to the various given environments. The digital hearing aids usually have an added advantage in a way that they can be programmed to focus on sounds coming from specific directions instead of any directions. This model of using digital circuitry is therefore applicable in designing all types of hearing aids which makes them more expensive than the analog hearing aids due to their functionality, flexibility and ease of application.   Types and Styles of Hearing Aids The main types of hearing aids are classified as either digital or analogs hearing aids. Based on the mode of application and functionalities of the hearing aids under these categories, there are various types of hearing aids, as discussed below. The most common types of hearing aids include the Behind-the-Ear  (BTE) hearing aids, In-the-Ear (ITE) hearing aids, and the Canal hearing aids.
  1. Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids.
These aids consist of a plastic case that is worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic earmold designed to fit the inside and the outer ear. The electric parts of the hearing aids are held in the case behind the ear, and therefore, sound travels from hearing aid into the ear through the earmold. This type of hearing aid is applicable and suitable to all people of any age group suffering from profound to mild hearing loss. There is a new kind of BTE hearing aid that is very small and open-fit to the ear. It fits behind the ear completely with only a narrow tube that is inserted into the ear canal and therefore enabling the canal to remain open. Due to this reason, open-fit hearing aids are suitable for people who experience earwax buildups because this hearing aid is not likely to be damaged by such substances.  
  1. In-the-Ear (ITE) hearing aids
This is a type of hearing aid that fits into the outer ear completely, used for mild to other severe hearing loss. The case that holds the electronic components is made up of hard plastic with some other additional features such as the telecoil. A telecoil is a tiny magnetic coil that is used in place of the microphone to allow the users to receive the sound waves via the circuit system of the hearing aid, instead of receiving through the microphone. The telecoils make it easier to hear conversations, especially over the telephone. The telecoils are also important in helping people with hearing loss to hear clearly when they are in public facilities that are installed with the various special sound systems called the induction loop systems that are found in auditoriums, churches, airports and schools. However, the ITE type of hearing aids are usually not worn by the younger children because the casings may need to be replaced often as the ear glows.  
  • The canal hearing aids.
This is a type of hearing aids that fits into the canal of the ear. They are available in two categories, being the In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aid the Completely-in-Canal (CIC) hearing aids. In-the-Ear-Canal (ITC) hearing aids are made made to fit into the size and the shape of the canal of a person’s ear. These hearing aids have all their working parts in the earmold and therefore, the whole hearing aid fits into the ear. For this reason, these hearing aids are less visible because they fit right inside the ear canal. The Completely-in-Canal (CIC) hearing aids are designed in a way that they seem hidden under the canal. This type of hearing aids fits further into the ear canal than the ITC hearing aids, making them even less visible or completely invisible from a distance.   The canal hearing aids are applicable for people suffering from mild to moderately severe hearing loss. However, they are very small, and therefore, it might be difficult for users to remove or adjust them. They also have a very small space available for the batteries and other additional devices such as the telecoils, and therefore, their power is limited compared to the other types of hearing aids. For this reason, these hearing aids are not recommended for use by people profound to severe hearing loss and young children due to their limit in power and volume.  
  1. The Reciever-in-Canal (RIC) or Receiver-in-the-Ear (RITE) hearing aids: These are similar to the BTE hearing aids, only that the receiver of this hearing aids is removed from the case sitting at the back of the ear and fitted into the ear canal which is connected to the hearing case with a thin piece of cable.
Adjusting to the Hearing Aid Hearing aids are designed and optimized to meet the personal need of distinct users, even under the most challenging environments. However, this, however, is a process that takes time and patience to be able to use and adjust to them successfully. Some hearing aids have automatic built-in volume control which makes them easier to use and fast to adapt to them. The manual control hearing aids may require some guidance and training on how to use them effectively. The essential tips for adjusting to the hearing aids, especially the manual control ones, include the following.
  • Start slowly by wearing the hearing aids one or two hours at a time, or as instructed by the audiologist. Putting them on for long periods could cause uncomfortably.
  • In the beginning, keep it quiet by using it in environments with fewer people and little noise to learn and understand their functionality.
  • Avoid painful situations. Incases the hearing aids cause pain or sores to the ear; you should contact the specialist involved to help in sorting out the issue.
  • As time goes by, start using the hearing aids gradually for longer periods of time and testing it out in noisy environments.
  • Take a break from time to time to relax.
Wearing the hearing aids regularly and testing out the various features and settings helps to become familiar with their way of operations and therefore helping in adjusting to them. The audiologist can be consulted in the practice of pitting in the hearing aid and taking it out, cleaning it, replacing the batteries, identifying the right and the left hearing aids, and other basic practices in using the hearing aid until you are familiar with its operation. The audiologist can help in testing it in various environments and how to adjust the volume according to the environment or the nature of the sound. There are some common challenges experienced by the users of hearing aids before they adjust to them. Some of these problems include;
  • Hearing background noises and distortions. With the help of the audiologist, the hearing aid can be adjusted until the distortions, and the noises are clear. This, however, takes time to adapt and to get the settings that entirely separate the sounds.
  • Getting a whistling feedback or echo from the hearing aids. The whistling sounds can be caused by hearing aids that do not fit well, or those that might be clogged by earwax and other dirt. The audiologist can help in adjustment and cleaning as you adjust to them.
  • Getting a buzzing sound especially when using a cell phone. This is a condition experienced especially by people who have implanted hearing devices. Radio frequencies from the digital frequencies may cause interferences with those of the hearing aids causing the buzzing effect. The hearing aids can, therefore, be adjusted and programmed to frequencies that do not interfere with those of the cellphones.
  • The voices may be too loud. There might be a plugged-up sensation causing the voice to sound louder inside the head. This is called the occlusion effect. The audiologists can also help in making corrections and setting the hearing aids to remove this effect.
  • Feeling uncomfortable. This might be caused by not choosing the right size of the hearing aids or using them for longer periods. The audiologists should be consulted before getting the hearing aids to help in getting the best choice of the right size, and also advise on how long to wear the hearing aid as you adjust to it.
  The history of hearing aids The hearing aid finds its way back all the way to the 17th century, where the ear trumpet was invented and considered the first hearing aid. Frederick C. Rein invented it by the use of animal horns and iron sheets. This invention has been modified and advanced to be the small hearing aid as we know it today. After the invention of the telephone technology by Alexander Graham Bell’s in 1876, in 1898, the first electronic hearing aid was invented by Miller Reese Hutchison, who used an electric current to amplify weak signals. The device was however cumbersome and a little huge in size which was a challenge when it came to portability of the device. In 1920, vacuum-tube hearing aids were then invented, which were able to turn speech and sound into electric signals, which were then amplified. Transistors were then invented in 1948 through the miniaturization technology developed during World War II. The transistors were smaller in size than the vacuum tubes and therefore replaced the vacuum tubes making the hearing aids to be much smaller in size. The transistors also consumed less battery power and produced fewer distortions. This formed the basis of the current hearing aids. Microprocessors were created in the 1970s together with the multi-channel amplitude compression which ushered into the digital hearing through the various technological enhancements, including the invention of microcomputers and high-speed processors to improve the effectiveness and efficiency in receiving the sound vibrations and amplifying them. The first all-digital hearing aids were hence created in the 1990s. Other technological innovations and enhancements such as Bluetooth technology have come in to improve the performance of the hearing aids. Implantable hearing aids have also been designed lately to increase the transmission of the sound vibrations that enter the inner ear. A device called a Middle Ear Implant (MEI) is a device that has been designed to be attached to one of the bones of the middle ear, which works by directly moving the bones instead of amplifying the sound as it travels through the eardrum. A bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) is another small kind of hearing aid that is attached to the bone behind the ear to transmit sound vibrations directly into the inner ear through the skull and therefore bypassing the inner ear. These kinds of hearing aids are useful to people with problems in the middle ear or deafness in one ear but they are considered risky because surgery is involved which may cause side effects that are much worse than hearing loss.   Conclusion We can all agree that hearing aids are one of the most essential innovations, among others. People with hearing impairments no longer have to worry about hearing their partners during a conversation. They, however, have their shortcomings such as being expensive, might be uncomfortable, they are easy to lose and some may be unattractive. The need and benefits however outway the disadvantages. The hearing aids should be used with the help of specialists such as the audiologists to ensure they are effective and useful in solving the individual needs of a particular person. The audiologist and other specialists help in choosing the right one that even lasts longer and helps the individuals in setting and adjusting the hearing aids until they adapt to them. Choosing the right hearing aids is the basis of getting long-lasting and effective hearing aids that meets the individual needs. The hearing aids should, however, be maintained as described above to meet the expected lifespan of the hearing aid and ensure an effective operation throughout their lifespan. The right choice of the hearing and regular maintenance can even make the hearing aids to last longer than the expected lifespan. This also helps in saving the costs of getting new ones, and the process of getting to adjust to the new ones again. For any issues with the hearing aids and the hearing loss conditions, one should check-up regularly with their physicians and specialists.