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Hearing Aids

What are hearing aids?

More than three million children in the U.S. have hearing loss. Hearing aids can help improve hearing and speech, especially in children with sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss in the inner ear due to damaged hair cells or a damaged hearing nerve). Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by noise, injury, infection, certain medications, birth defects, tumors and problems with blood circulation.

Hearing aids are battery-operated devices that amplify sound. A microphone receives the sound and amplifies it so that it is louder to the child. Children can be fitted with hearing aids at any age, even as young as at birth.

What are the different types of hearing aids?

The type of hearing aid recommended for your child will depend on several factors, including physical limitations, medical condition and personal preference.

There are many different kinds of hearing aids on the market, and companies are continuously improving the products. Four basic types of hearing aids are available today. Consult your child's physician for additional information on each of the following types:

Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids Picture of a behind-the-ear hearing aid

Behind-the-ear hearing aids, as the name implies, are worn behind the ear. This type of hearing aid, which is in a case, connects to a plastic earmold inside the outer ear. These hearing aids are generally used for mild to severe hearing loss. They are more flexible than ITEs because of the soft mold in the ear. This type of hearing aid is the most common type recommended for children

In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids Picture of an in-the-ear hearing aid

These hearing aids come in plastic cases that fit in the outer ear. Generally used for mild to severe hearing loss, ITE hearing aids can accommodate other technical hearing devices, such as the telecoil, a mechanism used to improve sound during telephone calls. However, their small size can make it difficult to make adjustments. In addition, ITE hearing aids can be damaged by ear wax and drainage. These hearing aids are usually not recommended for children until they stop growing.

Canal aids

These are rarely used in children. Canal aids fit directly in the ear canal and come in two styles: in-the-canal (ITC) aid and completely-in-canal (CIC) aid. Customized to fit the size and shape of the individual's ear canal, canal aids are generally used for mild to moderate hearing loss. However, because of their small size, removal and adjustment may be more difficult. In addition, canal aids can be damaged by ear wax and drainage. They are rarely used in children.

Bone conduction hearing aids

These types of hearing aids are for people with conductive hearing loss, with or without ear canals or ear canals that cannot support an earmold or for those with draining ears.

Cochlear Implants The cochlear implant is an electronic device that can provide auditory sensation to a person with severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. The cochlear implant bypasses the damaged organ of hearing and stimulates the auditory nerve directly. The cochlear implant consists of a surgically implanted component and an externally worn component. With a cochlear implant, children may be able to hear and speak better. Outcomes vary, however, based on the individual.

Who may be a candidate for hearing aids?

Nearly all children who have a hearing loss that may be improved with hearing aids can benefit from these devices. The type of hearing aid recommended may depend on several factors, including the following:

Wearing a hearing aid

Once the hearing aids have been fitted for the ears, your child should begin to gradually wear the hearing aid. Because hearing aids do not restore normal hearing, it may take time to get used to the different sounds transmitted by the device.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology recommends the following when beginning to wear hearing aids:

Taking care of hearing aids

Hearing aids need to be kept dry. Methods for cleaning hearing aids vary depending on the style and shape.

Other tips for taking care of hearing aids include the following:

Considerations when purchasing a hearing aid

A medical examination is required before purchasing a hearing aid. Hearing aids can be purchased from an otolaryngologist (a physician who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, throat and related structures of the head and neck), an audiologist (a specialist who can evaluate and manage hearing and balance problems), or a hearing aid dispenser. Styles and prices vary greatly.

The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders recommends asking the following questions when buying hearing aids:

Hearing aids typically need to be replaced after about 5 years. New programmable and digital hearing aids that can be adjusted as the level of hearing changes may reduce the need for replacement.

Reviewed by: Steven D. Handler, MD, MBE
Date: April 2009

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