What are hearing aids?
Hearing aids are small devices that amplify sound for children with hearing loss. Some types are worn behind the ears while others are worn inside the ear canal. The devices make speech easier to understand and other sounds easier to hear.
Consistent use of properly functioning hearing aids is the single most important factor in the development of spoken language in a hearing-impaired child. Ideally, children should get hearing aids soon after being diagnosed with hearing loss. In combination with training in language and listening, hearing aids can help young children develop communication skills.
How do hearing aids for children work?
Pediatric hearing aids are designed with infants and growing children in mind. Compared to adult hearing aids, they are more durable and have tamper-proof battery compartments. Your child may be able to choose the color, depending on the model recommended by their audiologist.
Some hearings aids run on disposable batteries while others are rechargeable. Hearing aids change the way sound enters the ear in three stages:
- A microphone receives the sound and converts it into electrical signals.
- An amplifier increases the volume of the electrical signals and sends them to the receiver.
- The receiver converts the electrical signals into sound waves that travel to the brain, where your child processes language and other sounds.
How much do hearing aids cost?
The cost of a hearing aid varies and reflects the technology used to develop the mini components in the device. In some cases, the cost includes services provided by the supplier.
Your child’s audiologist may be able to help you find programs to help cover the cost of your child’s hearing aids.
- Medicaid covers the cost of hearing aids for Medicaid-eligible children.
- Massachusetts offers a Hearing Aid Program for Infants and Children for families who qualify financially.
- Some charitable organizations offer assistance to families who cannot afford a child’s hearing aids.
- Some health insurance policies cover hearing aids. It’s worth checking with your insurance company.
Is my baby, child, or teen a candidate for hearing aids?
Infants as young as 2 months can be fitted with hearing aids.
The quality of speech your child will be able to hear with hearing aids will be affected by the degree of your child’s hearing loss.
- If your child has mild or moderate hearing loss, hearing aids can help them hear speech at almost the same level of clarity as a child who doesn’t have hearing loss. However, speech will be more difficult to recognize in loud spaces, even with hearing aids.
- If your child has severe or profound hearing loss, hearing aids can help them hear speech, but they may not hear speech clearly enough to fully understand what’s being said. Combined with communication strategies and/or sign language, hearing aids can be a critical part of your child’s ability to hear and communicate.
What are the different types of hearing aids?
Different types of hearing aids are worn in different parts of the ear: behind the ear, in the outer ear, or in the canal leading to the middle ear.
The different types of hearing aids include:
- Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids
Typically used for mild to severe hearing loss
Appropriate for people of any age, including infants and children
In behind-the-ear hearing aids, all of the electrical and computer pieces are housed in a plastic case worn behind the ear. This type of hearing aid connects to a plastic earmold inside the outer ear. BTE hearing aids are a good choice for infants and children due to their durability, custom fit in the ear, and comfort.
- Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids
Typically used for mild to severe hearing loss
Appropriate for teen and adults
Receiver-in-the-ear hearing aids are similar to BTE hearing aids, except that the receiver sits inside the ear canal. This allows the plastic case behind the ear to be slightly smaller with enough room for things such as Bluetooth connectivity and rechargeability. RITE hearing aids are typically less durable than BTE hearing aids because the speaker is inside the ear canal.
- In-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids
Typically used for mild to moderate hearing loss
Appropriate for adults
In-the-ear hearing aids fit directly in the ear canal and come in two styles: in-the-canal (ITC) aid and completely-in-canal (CIC). Both styles can be customized to fit the size and shape of the ear canal. However, because of their small size, removal and adjustment may be more difficult. In addition, they can be damaged by ear wax and drainage.
- Contralateral routing of signal (CROS) hearing aids
Typically used for severe to profound hearing loss, profound unilateral hearing loss (in one ear), asymmetry between the ears, or significant distortion in one ear that makes speech unintelligible even when amplified.
CROS hearing aids pick up speech from the hearing aid on the ‘bad’ ear and send it to the hearing aid on the ‘good’ ear. CROS hearing aids may be a good option for those with severe to profound unilateral hearing loss who are uninterested in cochlear implants.
Your audiologist will recommend the type of hearing aid that will work best for your child based on several factors. These include the degree of hearing loss, the shape (results) of the audiogram, the possible need for future adjustments in amplification, and the size and fit of the hearing aid in your child’s ear.
How long do hearing aids last?
Your child will need new earmolds as they grow, but children typically don’t outgrow hearing aids. However, the devices typically need to be replaced after about five years.
Most manufacturers offer damage or loss-and-damage protection for at least one year after the date of the fitting. Be sure to find out about this coverage when you buy hearing aids and to purchase loss-and-damage insurance when the manufacturer’s policy runs out.
Should my child have hearing aids for both ears?
Two hearing aids are recommended for nearly all young children with hearing impairment, unless one ear has no residual hearing or can’t benefit from amplified sound.
If your child has partial hearing in both ears, two hearing aids are better than one. With two hearing aids, your child will be better able to tell what direction a sound is coming from. Two hearing aids can also help your child to "tune in" to one voice in a noisy room.
How can I help my child adjust to wearing hearing aids?
It can take some time for your child to get used to wearing hearing aids and hearing sounds through them. Be patient and start slow.
- Have your child wear their hearing aids in quiet places first. Over time, gradually have your child wear their hearing aids in noisier environments.
- Experiment. Pay attention to what settings and times the hearing aids work best for your child.
- Keep a record of your questions and concerns to bring to your child’s follow-up exam.
How should we take care of hearing aids?
A hearing aid is a delicate electronic instrument. These simple rules will extend their life and reduce the need for repairs:
- Keep the devices away from heat and cold. Do not leave hearing aids on a radiator, stove, windowsill, glove compartment, car seat, dashboard of the car, or any other hot or cold place.
- Keep hearing aids dry. Keep your child’s devices out of a steamy bathroom. Make sure to take them off for bathing, showering, or swimming. In heavy rain or snow, take the aids off or cover them with a hood or umbrella.
- Don’t mix hair care and hearing aids. Remove the hearing aid when using a hair dryer and never spray your child’s hair with hair spray when they’re wearing their hearing aids.
- Keep the devices clean. If you see visible corrosion on the battery contacts, take the devices to the hearing aid dispenser to be cleaned.
- Maintain the batteries. Replace the batteries regularly. When going to bed, open the battery compartment or remove the batteries overnight to prevent corrosion and improve battery life.
What if my child’s hearing aid isn’t working
- Try replacing the battery or placing the device in its charger.
- Check the earmold tubing for wax.
- Contact your child’s audiologist, who may be able to help troubleshoot by phone. They may also suggest sending the device in for repair.
What if my child’s hearing aid gets wet?
- Remove the battery if the device has one.
- Slide the earmold tubing off of the earhook (the hard plastic that sits around the top of the ear).
- Using the tube blower, blow water out of the tube.
- Place the hearing aids and earmolds in the dri-aid kit overnight.
- Listen to the hearing aid the next morning. If it does not work, call your child’s audiologist.
What if my child hears feedback?
- Make sure the earmold has a tight seal when it’s inside your child’s ear.
- Try replacing the earmold, making sure to place it as deep into the ear as possible.
- If you continue to hear feedback, your child may need new earmolds. Contact your child’s audiologist to schedule an appointment for earmold impressions.
What should I expect during my child’s hearing aid evaluation and fitting?
Hearing aid evaluation
You and your child will meet with an audiologist, typically in person for about an hour. The audiologist will review your child’s hearing test and discuss how hearing aids could help. If you have any specific concerns or questions about your child’s hearing or speech and language development, now is a great time to ask them.
The audiologist will describe the types of hearing aids they recommend for your child and the reasoning behind their recommendations. After you and your child decide on a hearing aid type, you can make choices about color and (potentially) accessories.
At the end of the hearing aid evaluation, the audiologist may ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your child’s auditory skills and development and set goals for your child and their hearing aids. The audiologist may also do some additional hearing tests. Over time, this information will help your child’s team track your child’s progress with the hearing aids.
Depending on the type of hearing aid, your child may need an earmold impression for one or both ears. Earmold impressions are created with a silicone mixture and sent to the lab where your child’s personalized earmolds will be created.
The process to make an earmold impression includes:
- After an audiologist looks inside your child’s ears, a foam or cotton “block” will be placed in your child’s ears to protect their eardrums.
- Silicone putty will be mixed and placed in a syringe. The syringe will be used to put the putty into your child’s ears. The putty may feel cold at first, but it warms up quickly.
- Once the putty is in your child’s ears, it will need to remain undisturbed for five minutes. Your child can play with toys, watch a movie, or play a game to keep them entertained while the impression material is drying.
- Once set, the putty will be removed and the audiologist will look in your child’s ears again to ensure they are healthy.
- You and your child will get to choose the earmold style, color, and possibly put a “logo,” such as a spider or paw print, on it.
The earmold impressions will be sent to a manufacturer who will make them into hearing aid earmolds. A hearing aid fitting will be scheduled six to eight weeks after the amplification evaluation to allow time for the earmolds to be created.