It’s estimated that there are 4 million people with hearing loss in the UK who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, but don’t.
According to audiology specialist, Louise Hart from Action on Hearing Loss, many people are put off the idea of wearing hearing aids because they think they are unsightly and that they will make them look old.
"What they might not realise is that modern hearing aids are a great improvement on those that were available even a decade ago.
"Not only do today’s digital hearing aids work better than the older analogue ones, they’re also much smaller and neater than they used to be. We need a new attitude to hearing aids. Wearing them should be as unremarkable as wearing glasses," she says.
The benefits of wearing hearing aids
Research has found that wearing hearing aids can lessen the impact the hearing loss has on your life. The earlier you get them, the more you'll get out of them.
Hearing aids are designed to help you hear everyday sounds such as the doorbell and telephone, and improve your ability to hear speech. They should make you feel more confident when talking to people and make it much easier for you to follow conversations in different environments. They might also help you to enjoy listening to music and the TV again, at a volume that's comfortable for those around you.
According to a survey by Action on Hearing Loss, people who use hearing aids are generally very satisfied with them. More than half of those questioned described being fitted with a hearing aid as "a relief" and most of them felt their lives had improved because they "felt more involved".
What’s on offer
There are different types of hearing aid offering different advantages, depending on size, levels of amplification and design. They are all battery operated and the main types are:
This rests behind the ear and sends sound into the ear through either an earmould or a small, soft tip (called an open fitting)
This sits in the ear canal and the shell of the ear
This has its working parts in the earmould, so the whole hearing aid fits inside the ear canal
This fits further into your ear canal than an ITC aid.
Almost all modern hearing aids are digital. Action on Hearing Loss explains the difference between digital and analogue hearing aids.
ITE, ITC and CIC hearing aids are not issued as standard on the NHS, although they are available in certain circumstances, mostly for clinical reasons.
Read more about the different types of hearing aid.
NHS or private?
You can get hearing aids free of charge on the NHS or you can choose to buy them privately.
It's likely that you'll have a wider choice of aids if you buy them privately. But make sure you're not steered towards one or two particular models, as it may be that there are cheaper models that will suit your needs just as well.
The NHS buys a range of hearing aids and uses its bulk-buying power to get good-quality digital hearing aids at low prices from hearing aid manufacturers. NHS audiology services provide these aids free of charge on long-term loan to patients.
According to Louise Hart, most people will find that the NHS has the type of hearing aid they want.
“The NHS can procure high-quality digital hearing aids. For most situations, they perform very well and the waiting time to get one is short," she says.
The latest data shows the average waiting time between referral and treatment (which usually results in being given hearing aids) to be around four or five weeks on the NHS.
Read more about how to get a hearing aid through the NHS.
Your hearing aid fitting
Your hearing aid(s) will be chosen according to your level of hearing loss. The audiology staff will programme them with a computer to suit your needs. They will show you how to use the hearing aids and explain how to look after them.
Hearing aids provided by the NHS usually fit behind the ear. They have an earmould that connects to the hearing aid and fits in your ear. Open-fitting hearing aids are now also fitted routinely on the NHS, which can be less visible than earmoulds and can give you a more natural sound, but they are only suitable if your hearing loss is mild or moderate.
You should have an appointment about four to 12 weeks after your hearing aids are fitted, so you can ask questions and sort out any problems. The staff will check how helpful you have found your hearing aids in different situations and may make adjustments to the earmoulds or hearing aids.
Hearing aids as fashion
Louise Hart says that people may be surprised by the range and cutting-edge design of the hearing aids available on the NHS. “Modern digital hearing aids are widely available on the NHS."
Brightly coloured models are available on the NHS for people who want to make a feature of their hearing aid.
“When you have your fitting for an NHS hearing aid, you’ll normally be shown the standard selection of beige, brown and silver ones in the cabinet. The beige and brown ones are designed to blend in with your skin and hair tone and look discreet. But if you want to make a feature of your hearing aid, just ask, as there’s often a wider choice of colours available. If the clinic doesn’t have the colour you want in stock, it can be ordered for you,” says Hart.
If you want to customise your hearing aids further, there's a range of jewellery available, known as the ‘Hearrings’ collection. Created by an audiologist, these are ornate pieces designed to fit into the ear and mask the hearing aid. There are also websites such as Pimp my hearing aids and cochlear implants, which shows you how to customise your hearing aids yourself with stickers and nail foils, for example.
Hearing aid support
Action on Hearing Loss provides Hear to Help: hearing aid support services across the UK. They are run by trained volunteers, many of whom have hearing loss themselves, who show people how to get the best out of their NHS hearing aids. The volunteers help people to carry out basic maintenance on their hearing aids, such as replacing tubing and batteries, and providing information on equipment that can make life easier in the workplace and at home.
If you or someone you know is feeling anxious about using hearing aids and finding it hard to adjust to the idea and the reality of hearing loss, the organisation Hearing Link can help. It provides information, services and hearing loss support, including putting you in touch with others who can share their experiences.
Find hearing impairment services in your area.