With 11 million people in the UK suffering from hearing loss, you can see why there's such high demand for constant innovation and improvement in the hearing aid industry.
But how much does the average person really know about hearing aids, and how they work? How much could you tell someone about hearing aids? If the answer is ‘not much’, that’s okay! After all, they’re deceptively simple medical devices, like contact lenses.
It’s a bit of an oversimplification to think of hearing aids as devices that amplify sound. They certainly do that, but they have a wealth of other functions and features, such as directional focusing – which allows you to drown out background noise – and Bluetooth capabilities.
What is a hearing aid?
‘Hearing aid’ is a bit of an umbrella term that covers a wide range of seemingly different products. Despite how different they look, all the products in the image below are hearing aids.
Hearing aids are generally categorised based on the way they’re worn. These categories are, from smallest to largest:
- Completely-in-canal (CIC)
- In-the-canal (ITC)
- In-the-ear (ITE)
- Invisible-in-canal (IIC)
- Receiver-in-canal (RIC)
- Behind-the-ear (BTE)
As you can see, these names are all very self-explanatory. Other categories include mini-canal (MC) and microphone-in-helix (MIH), but these are far less common than the ones listed above.
Hearing aid features
This is the 21st century – if an electronic gadget doesn’t show you the weather, control your house’s lights, and walk your dog, then does it even count as an appliance? Hearing aids can’t do any of these (yet), but still have some nifty features to make up for it.
Some of the more popular hearing aid features include:
- Bluetooth – A lot of current hearing aids are equipped to connect to your phone, computer, smart TV, or any other Bluetooth device. While this has almost become the norm with newer hearing aid models, it’s still an outstandingly useful feature that instantly boosts the desirability of any hearing aid
- Rechargeability – Usually a feature reserved for the bigger models, like RIC and BTE, rechargeable hearing aids have come to the fore over the past few years. The convenience of a rechargeable hearing aid is a huge asset to anyone who wants to cut down on clutter
- Various company-specific features – With as many hearing aids as there are on the market, listing every company-specific add-on would be tricky. We go over some of the more noteworthy ones in our list of the best hearing aid brands of 2019, including Oticon’s BrainHearing and Widex’s SoundSense
Hearing aid features vary across brands and models more than you’d think, and it pays to do your research into these features before committing to a purchase. After all, you might be spending money on something you don’t need, or missing out on something you do.
Hearing aid costs
Hearing aid companies usually keep their specific prices under wraps. After doing some digging, we’ve generated some rough estimates of prices for some current hearing aid models. These are merely estimates, intended to give you a general idea of potential cost.
Top hearing aids can cost around £2,400, with less fancy (but still technologically up-to-date) models coming in at around £1,800. You may even be able to get your hands on some older models for a reduced price of around £1,500. While these may be a bit more barebones than the newer models, the basic function of enhancing your hearing will retain the same level of quality.
These prices are for a single hearing aid, not a pair, so you can see that a pair of hearing aids could set you back a considerable amount of money. Your hearing specialist may also attach additional costs to your bill, in order to cover follow-up appointments or retunings.
NHS hearing aids
The question we’ve all been waiting for: can you get hearing aids through the NHS? The answer is yes, though there are some caveats. Firstly, you’ll obviously need to get the appropriate results on a hearing test to justify a hearing aid. If your hearing ability justifies the use of a hearing aid, then you’ll be able to get one for free. Otherwise, you may be eligible to receive some other audiology treatment.
If you do receive a free hearing aid, there are some things you should keep in mind. Firstly, you won’t have a tonne of choices when it comes to the type of hearing aid you receive. You won’t be given too many dazzling features, either, since the goal of the device will revolve exclusively around improving your hearing.
And improve your hearing it will, since digital hearing aids that are set to match your hearing loss are standard issue from the NHS.
Follow-up care is also completely free of charge! If you have any breakages or problems, you’ll never have to worry about dipping into your savings for repairs. The only time you’ll need to fork over any money is if you lose it and need an entirely new replacement.
Finally, as is the case with a lot of NHS situations, you may be subject to a bit of a wait. This applies whether you’re waiting for your hearing aid itself, or if you’re waiting on a repair or check-up appointment.
How to get a hearing aid
If you’re interested in getting a hearing aid, you can arrange a free hearing consultation with a hearing specialist near you to assess your hearing and need for a hearing aid.