How do hearing aids function

Learning how hearing aids function makes your buying decision easier

Learning how hearing aids function makes your buying decision easier

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that is used to amplify sounds and improve hearing perception.  Depending on the type of hearing aid selected, it may be worn in or behind the ear.

This little device provides a big service for those with hearing difficulties, so it is important to work with an audiologist to determine which type of hearing aid is best suited to your circumstances.  To better understand the option available, here is more about how hearing aids function.   

The Sum of its Parts

Generally, a hearing aid has three integral parts: a microphone, an amplifier, and a speaker.

The microphone picks up on sounds. These sound waves are then converted into an electrical signal which is then sent to an amplifier. The amplifier is used to increase the power of the electrical signal received, and the signal is then sent to the ear through the speaker. The result is a louder and clearer sound. This seemly simple system can allow the hearing-impaired to communicate better.

How Can Hearing Aids Help?

Those with hearing loss resulting from damage to the small sensory cells (also called ?hair cells?) in the ear can greatly benefit from the use of hearing aids. This specific type of hearing loss is referred to as ?sensorineural hearing loss? and can result from advanced age, disease, or injury.

Hearing aids can magnify the sound vibrations entering the ear; therefore, the surviving hair cells are better able to detect the larger vibrations. These vibrations are then converted into neural signals that are then transmitted to the brain. 


Since greater damage to an individual?s hair cells results in greater hearing loss, the hearing aid will need to provide greater amplification in order to compensate for the loss. Unfortunately, hearing aids do not work for everyone. There are limitations to the amount of amplification that a hearing aid can provide. In addition, if the damage to the inner ear is too great then it is possible that even the increased vibrations may not be converted into neural signals.

How Do They Work?

The way a hearing aid works depends on the electronics used in the device. Analog and digital are the two main types of electronics utilized for hearing aids and both can help increase hearing perception.

Analog aids convert sound waves into electrical signals. These signals are then amplified, resulting in increased perception of sound. Analog/adjustable hearing aids are custom built in order to meet the needs of a specific user, and they are specifically programmed by the manufacturer in order to meet your audiologist recommendations.

Digital aids, on the other hand, convert sound waves into numerical codes which include information about a sound?s pitch or loudness. This digital circuitry allows the audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the hearing aid, and can result in increased volume and improved clarity for the wearer.  

What Type of Hearing Aid Works Best?

The type of hearing aid that will work best for you depends on many variables, such as the type and severity of your hearing loss. In order to determine which type of hearing aid will best work for you, you should do some research on the types of hearing aids available and talk with you audiologist to select a hearing aid that suits your individual circumstances.

While hearing aids can?t restore your normal hearing function, the technological advances in hearing aids allow more options that ever for those suffering from hearing loss.


Mayo Clinic. Hearing Aids: How to Choose the Right One.

National Institutes for Health. Hearing Aids.