Hearing aids are small electronic or battery-operated devices that can amplify and change sound. They are used by people with hearing loss. A hearing aid has a microphone that receives sound and changes it into sound waves. The sound waves are then changed into electrical signals.
More than 3 million children in the U.S. have hearing loss. About 1.3 million of them are younger than age 3. More children will lose their hearing later in childhood. Hearing aids can help improve hearing and speech, especially for children with a type of hearing loss called nerve deafness (sensorineural hearing loss). This type of hearing loss is due to damaged hair cells (sensory receptor cells) in the inner ear, or a damaged hearing nerve. Nerve deafness can be caused by:
Problems with blood circulation
The type of hearing aid recommended for your child will depend on several factors. These include your child’s physical limitations, medical condition, and personal preference. There are many different types of hearing aids on the market. Companies are always inventing newer, improved hearing aids. But there are 4 basic types of hearing aids available today. See your child's healthcare provider or audiologist for additional information on each of the following types:
ITE hearing aids come in plastic cases that fit in the outer ear. They are generally used for mild to severe hearing loss. They can be used with other technical hearing devices, such as the telecoil, a mechanism used to improve sound during telephone calls. But their small size can make it difficult to make adjustments. ITE hearing aids can also be damaged by ear wax and drainage.
BTE hearing aids are worn behind the ear. This type of hearing aid is in a case. It connects to a plastic ear mold inside the outer ear. BTE hearing aids are generally used for mild to severe hearing loss. They are typically used for young infants and children. Poorly fitted BTE hearing aids can cause an annoying whistling sound (feedback) in the ear. But all types of hearing aids may cause feedback if poorly fitted.
Canal aids fit directly in the ear canal. They come in 2 styles: in-the-canal (ITC) aid and completely-in-canal (CIC) aid. Custom made to fit the size and shape of your child’s ear canal, canal aids are generally used for mild to moderate hearing loss. But their small size can make removing and adjusting them more difficult. Canal aids can also be damaged by ear wax and drainage.
Body aids are attached to a belt or pocket and connected to the ear with a wire. They are often reserved for cases when a child can’t hear anything at all (profound hearing loss). Or they are used if the other types of hearing aids don’t help.
Most 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 shape of the outer ear (behind-the-ear hearing aids may not fit ears that have an abnormal shape)
Depth or length of depression near the ear canal (ears that are too shallow may not accommodate in-the-ear hearing aids)
The type and severity of hearing loss
The child’s ability to remove and insert hearing aids
The amount of wax build-up in the ear (too much wax or moisture may prevent use of in-the-ear hearing aids)
Ears that require drainage may not be able to use certain hearing aid models
Once the hearing aids have been fitted for the ears, your child should begin to slowly wear the hearing aid. Hearing aids don’t restore normal hearing. Because of this, it may take time to get used to the different sounds transmitted by the device. Follow these tips when your child is starting to wear hearing aids:
Be patient and give your child time to get used to the hearing aid and the sound it makes.
Start in quiet areas and slowly build up to noisier environments.
Experiment to see where and when the hearing aid works best for your child.
Keep a record of any questions and concerns you have, and bring those to your child's follow-up exam.
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:
Keep the hearing aids away from heat.
Batteries should be replaced on a regular basis, usually every 1 to 2 weeks.
Avoid using hairspray and other hair products when the hearing aid is in place.
A medical exam is required before buying a hearing aid. Hearing aids can be purchased from:
An otolaryngologist. This is a doctor who specializes in disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck.
An audiologist. This is a specialist who can evaluate and manage hearing and balance problems.
An independent company
Styles and prices vary greatly. Consider the following questions when buying hearing aids:
Can my child’s hearing loss be improved with medical or surgical interventions?
Which design will work best for my child's type of hearing loss?
Can my child test the hearing aids for a certain time?
How much do hearing aids cost?
Do the hearing aids have a warranty and does it cover care and repairs?
Can my child's audiologist or otolaryngologist make adjustments and repairs?
Can any other assistive technology devices be used with the hearing aids?