What started as a small device to help World War II combat veterans with hearing loss has evolved into a widely used hearing aid to help patients with hearing loss that is genetic, medical, traumatic or due to chronic high noise exposure.
“Hearing loss is unique to each patient, which is why the technology has continually advanced to help patients hear and understand speech in a variety of complex listening situations,” said Dr. Ross Tonini, audiologist in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.
The first hearing aid models were analog and simply made sounds louder. In the early 2000s the industry embraced digital technology, which introduced an improved sound quality to the hearing impaired and tried to compensate for the specific problems that hearing loss causes for speech understanding.
According to Tonini, size and style also have changed dramatically over the past 20 years.
“We no longer need to plug the ear,” Tonini said. “The majority of hearing aids are now smaller behind the ear devices with a silicon off-the-shelf tip that goes into the ear.”
Although major improvements have been made, there are still challenges that need to be addressed.
“Hearing aids are designed to listen for speech, which allows us to put the cleanest signal possible into a broken microphone, the ear that has a hearing loss,” Tonini stated.
Today, people can use their smart phones to adjust the volume of their hearing aids, change their listening programs, listen to audio material on their phone and even speak on the phone via bluetooth connectivity.
Assisted listening devices and looped buildings also are helping improve the ability for the hearing impaired to hear and understand speech in an assortment of environments.
For more information on hearing aids or to make an appointment with a Baylor audiologist, call 713-798-4327.
-By Julia Parsons