There have been several momentous changes in the production and manufacture of hearing aids, but none so dramatic as the introduction of digital technology.
Firstly, there was the traditional ear trumpet. Then, the first proper hearing aids were introduced, in the form of the little box, which would sit around the neck or in a breast pocket. That was known as the ‘body worn’ hearing aid.
Then the first behind the ear aids were made, which were large and cumbersome, but sat behind the ear, and had the microphone pointing in the direction that the ear pointed, which in itself was a big advance.
Then analogue ‘in the ear’ hearing aids were produced, which were the first systems to pay heed to cosmetic requirements.
Hearing aids that were analogue but programmable came next, and then soon after that was the advent of open ear hearing aids. These revolutionised the hearing profession, giving extra clarity, noise filters, dual microphones and an accurate programming ability. When we look at original digital hearing aids now, they seem as antiquated as an analogue aids would have done when digital first became available, but at the time they were groundbreaking.
Technology in the hearing profession has moved at an astonishing pace in the last five years or so.
The biggest breakthrough for the hearing aid wearer is the open fit devices. The first of these was the Resound Hearing Aid called the Contact Air. This comprised of a small pod behind the ear using size 10 hearing battery, a very thin tube to carry the sound into the ear, where it connected to a soft dome, which fitted snugly in the ear canal. These were amazingly popular and successful, and were responsible for a revolution in hearing aid technology. The Delta was the first Oticon hearing system to incorporate an open fit and the Savia Art and Audeo are some of the early open fit Phonak Hearing Aids. The Delta from Oticon (which has now been superseded by the Dual Mini) introduced RITE (receiver in the ear) technology, which removed the acoustic vagaries of thin tubing, as the tubing itself was replaced by a wire which carried the sound electronically to the speaker, which was housed underneath the soft rubbery dome.
But what makes them so special?
There are several reasons why an open fitting hearing aid will always be preferable.
1. Comfort. Because there is no mould to seal the ear, the rubber dome sits snugly in the ear canal, preventing unnecessary perspiration and allowing the ear to ‘breathe’ as it would if no hearing aid was worn. I have often heard people say ‘I don’t know I’m wearing them’ as they are so light and comfortable.
2. Quality of hearing. The basis of an open ear fitting is that it allows the wearer to use the percentage of hearing he or she still has remaining, but is given a boost (usually in mid and high pitch sound) to aid clarity with the hearing of speech. This effect has given us the nearest we can achieve to normal hearing via hearing aids.
3. Cost. Open ear hearing aids are factory made and do not cost as much to manufacture as a custom-made in the ear hearing aid. Therefore, higher technology specifications are available at lower price ranges. The fact that they are factory manufactured also means the instruments are more reliable than in the ear hearing aids.
4. Discretion. Due to the very thin wire and small ‘pod’ sitting behind the ear, open fit hearing aids tend to be very discrete and largely invisible.
OK, so how do I get one?
If you are interested in finding out more about open ear hearing