What is a digital hearing aid?

Many people with hearing loss are confused about the myriad of options when it comes to hearing aids.  There are so many new terms, so much jargon that you read in advertisements and articles about hearing aid technology.  One of the most common phrases is “digital hearing aid”, or “digital programmable hearing aid.”

These days, nearly all high-quality hearing aids are digital.  But what does this mean?  It means that the hearing aid has a tiny digital processor built in, basically a miniaturized computer.  The sound coming into the hearing aid is converted to a digital signal (basically a numeric expression of the sound), this signal is then processed by the “computer”, and then converted back to an audible sound — which is what you hear with the hearing aid in place.  The digital processor can be programmed to treat loud sounds differently than softer sounds, high frequencies differently than low frequencies, and minimizes any distortion — all in a matter of microseconds.  While this may seem complex, it is in fact the best way to improve the clarity and quality of the incoming sounds, to compensate for the user’s hearing loss.  Digital processing enables very advanced manipulation of the sound, far more advanced than the older analog technology of 20 or 30 years ago.  Hearing aids are no longer simple amplifiers that just make sounds louder — they are now extremely advanced sound processing devices.  Today’s hearing aids have more computing power than most home computers, all contained in a tiny package that fits behind (or in) your ear.

Also, most modern hearing aids are programmable.  This means that the audiologist who fits your hearing aid, will create a custom program for the hearing aid’s “computer”, that is customized to your particular hearing loss, hearing situations, lifestyle, and preferences.  If your hearing loss changes, or your lifestyle or preferences change with time, the audiologist can adjust the program to suit the new situation.

Some retail stores now offer “personal sound amplifiers”, at very low prices. These devices are not hearing aids. They are not programmable, and do not have digital processing. They simply amplify all sounds equally, causing loud sounds to become even louder.  They amplify all frequencies, including those frequencies that you can already hear quite well, without amplification.

All of the major hearing aid manufacturers developed digital programmable hearing aids many years ago, because this technology is far superior to any other method of assisting those who suffer from hearing loss.

If you have any questions about hearing aid technology, please call our office at 610-866-2929 and ask to speak to one of our audiologists, or schedule an appointment for a consultation.  We will be glad to explain hearing aid technology, and hearing loss, in more detail.