Hearing well depends on tiny nerves called “hair cells” (because of their shape and appearance), that are found within the cochlea in the inner ear. There are two types of hair cells—inner hair cells and outer hair cells. Inner hair cells sort and transmit various frequencies, or pitches of sound, while outer hair cells enhance the transmission of soft sounds.
People living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss have lost their outer hair cells, and have trouble understanding softer speech, such as the voices of women and children.
Severe hearing loss is more complex. With the loss of both inner and outer hair cells, people lose the ability to distinguish sounds of different pitches from one another. This adds an element of distortion to the hearing loss. In fact, a common observation from patients with severe-to-profound hearing loss is that hearing aids make sounds easier to hear, but not always easier to understand.
BTE hearing aid (not actual size)
Trained and licensed hearing care professionals can tell you whether your hearing loss falls into the severe-to-profound category. If so, hearing aids will not totally restore your natural hearing, but can be of great help. Your hearing care professional will interpret the results of your hearing test and work with you to fit a hearing device with the appropriate features. Typically, Behind-the-Ear (BTE) hearing aids are the standard choice for severe-to-profound hearing loss because they supply more power.
Digital hearing aids offer the advantage of sensing the overall acoustic environment, and automatically amplifying the sound in the right way. Additional assistance may be needed for telephone use, and it's common for those with profound hearing loss to also rely upon lip reading and/or sign-language.
If you suspect hearing loss, consult with a licensed hearing care professional to determine which treatment options are best for you.