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What Is a Hearing Aid?

A hearing aid is an assistive device that amplifies sound to improve a person’s ability to hear and communicate with others. Hearing aids can help someone with hearing loss be more aware of sounds in their environment. They also help with speech comprehension to communicate with others.

How It Works

Hearing aids have three basic parts: 

  • a microphone that picks up sound from the environment around you and turns it into an electrical or digital signal, 
  • an amplifier that takes the signal and makes it stronger, and
  • a speaker that sends the amplified sound into your ear. 

Digital technology today allows our audiologists to customize hearing aids. Customization is based on how much hearing loss a person has, and the type or pattern of hearing loss. Automatic features can adjust the volume to the environment and noise level, making it easier to hear in a variety of situations. 

Who Needs Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids can help anyone with damaged hearing as a result of: 

  • sensorineural hearing loss (damage to the sensory nerves in the inner ear that pick up sound signals and transmit them to the auditory nerve),
  • conductive hearing loss (damage to the outer or middle ear that prevents sound waves from traveling to the auditory nerve), or
  • mixed hearing loss (a combination of the two conditions above).

Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is the most common type of hearing loss. With normal hearing, cilia (which look like small hairs) pick up signals from sounds like speech, music, or environmental noises. They transmit a signal to the auditory nerve. This nerve sends information to your brain where you perceive and make sense of the sounds. Damage to the sensory or auditory nerves that leads to SNHL can come from: 

  • aging (most SNHL occurs in people over age 65),
  • genetics,
  • disease,
  • injury, or
  • some medications.

When the auditory nerve or other structures inside your ear get damaged, they cannot be repaired. If you still have some ability to hear, a hearing aid can help. 

Find a Hearing Aid Specialist

Hearing Aid Benefits

Hearing aids help by magnifying sound to make it easier for a person to hear and understand speech and other noises in the environment. A hearing aid can: 

  • improve your ability to hear in different environments, such as watching television or attending a concert; 
  • help you understand another person’s speech during a conversation;
  • minimize background noise so you can carry on a conversation or focus in a noisy environment; and
  • help you maintain independence if you experience hearing loss as you get older.

How to Tell if Your Hearing Aid Is Working

The easiest way to tell if a hearing aid is working is whether or not you can hear better when you use it. Some hearing aids also have features like a smartphone app with Bluetooth connectivity. This allows you to manage the device and troubleshoot if it’s not working properly. If you notice the sound quality getting worse, or have trouble hearing or understanding things like conversations or television shows, talk to your audiologist to determine if there is a problem with your hearing aid. 

Learn More About Hearing Aids

Call 801-587-8368 to schedule an appointment for a hearing test or discuss your concerns about hearing loss with an audiologist. You can schedule a hearing test at University of Utah Health or bring your results from a previous hearing test to your appointment. 

Insurance Coverage

Some insurance plans require a referral to get a hearing test or see an audiologist. Medicare and some private insurance plans do not cover hearing aids for adults. But these insurance plans may cover hearing tests and audiology appointments as long as you have a referral from a physician. 

Medicaid will cover testing and diagnosis for hearing loss in children. Medicaid plans also pay for hearing aids for children in some states, but laws and coverage can vary. Contact your insurance provider with questions about your coverage.

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