Gone are the days of weak and fragile hearing aid devices with wires that used to tangle themselves into a monstrous mess. Carrying them around was problematic and they could only accentuate sound generated around the user.
Traditional hearing aid setups include a transmitter case and an ear-mold. The ear-mold is worn on the ear and can be customized to individual size and comfort. The case is usually worn behind the ear, and contains the circuitry required for the working of the device, the battery, and the device control system. The ear-mold contains the speaker. Electric routing of sound takes place over a connection (wired or wireless) between the case and the mold. The mold contains a plastic tube that delivers proper sound as received to the user's ear.
Although traditional hearing aids are still widely popular, wireless hearing aids are fast starting to create a place for themselves. Amongst the more recent wireless hearing aid developments, Bluetooth hearing aids are a crucial innovation. In addition to functioning as a regular hearing aid, a Bluetooth hearing aid allows a person with affected hearing ability to modulate audio using a device that streams Bluetooth transmission from other Bluetooth-enabled consumer electronic devices such as cell phones, music players and TVs. These hearing aids operate in the 2.4 GHz frequency.
Most Bluetooth hearing aids use a separate Bluetooth-enabled device (that users usually keep in the pocket) to enable transmission with external Bluetooth devices. Although hearing aids with inbuilt Bluetooth that can be worn directly are available, they are very recent, not common, and still being improved on.
The working of a Bluetooth hearing aid is pretty simple. It requires a Bluetooth transmitter (a small intermediate device usually about the size of an iPod Shuffle) that users carry in their pocket, and a ear-mold consisting of plastic tube that is placed in the ear. Some of the newer devices have the transmitter as an extension to the hearing aid. Most manufacturers make these transmitters with audio adjustment buttons (such as volume, pair/connect etc.) for user convenience. The transmitter's Bluetooth reception is turned on. This device is then paired with other Bluetooth devices in surrounding areas. A communication is established between the two devices that makes it possible for the hearing aid's Bluetooth transmitter to pick up audio signals from the other device. It then converts the Bluetooth signals into signals that the ear-mold can understand. Thus, an individual with hearing problems can hear audio from those devices with high clarity.
This technology has received a further boost due to the 'telecoil revolution'. Telecoils are basically thin strands of copper wire wound around the circuitry of hearing aids. These telecoils get activated automatically due to the magnet in the ear device. Once active, they can detect electromagnetic signals from other telecoil devices such as hearing loops. Most churches, office conference rooms, concert halls, lecture halls, theaters, airports etc. in the US are equipped with hearing loops. Users can use their hearing aids simultaneously with these hearing loops to enable sound. Your hearing aid will then correct the received signals and optimize them to your needs. This makes hearing possible even in public places like churches and airports where Bluetooth connectivity is not possible, and there is too much ambient noise for regular hearing aids to work well. Telecoils can be programmed to individual hearing patterns. This concept doubles the use of a hearing aid and makes optimum use of its technology.
The advantage of using a Bluetooth hearing aid is - first and foremost, it is wireless; and secondly because Bluetooth can be found everywhere today. Almost all cell phones and consumer electronic devices carry Bluetooth connectivity. This makes it possible for people with hearing issues to pick up sound from external audio sources.
This technology allows individuals to enjoy audio across all modern technologies such as iPods, cell phones, and even computers (most modern computers have inbuilt Bluetooth technology). It also enables them to prevail amongst normal people in public places without having to ask for external assistance.
On the technological front, Bluetooth transmission ensures better quality than any other wireless technology. Its noise cancellation is almost flawless and signal alteration, next to negligible. Moreover, since Bluetooth offers better data security, the day is not far away when two individuals with partial or full hearing impairment may be able to converse and understand each other through two paired Bluetooth hearing aids - just like normal people.
Some of the best Bluetooth hearing aids available in the market include a range of products from Artone. Artone was the manufacturer who made this technology commercially available for the first time. GN too has a range of products that include complete hearing aid devices, as well as individual devices such as TV Streamers, Bluetooth Adapters, Universal Remote Controls, etc. ReSound, Unitron, Oticon, and ClearSounds also have quality products that have been appreciated by users.
Siemens too has a wonderful product up its sleeves called miniTEK. The hearing aid is accompanied with a small remote control which enables transmission of audio from other devices. The remote also carries volume control buttons. The remote control can also be used to route calls from a cell phone. The device uses Siemens' trademark e2e wireless 2.0 technology that makes noise suppression possible for better hearing.
Before purchasing any hearing aid, whether Bluetooth or traditional, do consult an otolaryngologist and get your degree of impairment checked. Although packed with features, some products may not suit a certain individual's needs. An otolaryngologist will be able to advise you properly in this regard.