Hearing aids have advanced tremendously, evolving from animal horns and vactuphones, to tiny devices that sit behind, or inside, our ears. Hearing aids used to simply amplify all sounds which, while helpful, could be overwhelming for users who only suffered from specific hearing losses. The introduction of the microchip, and the wide adoption of electronics, gave rise to the digital hearing aid - a device that could be programmed to assist with specific forms of hearing loss.

Though, what is the difference between an analog and a digital hearing aid? Does it matter? You might also be wondering which option would be best for you. Let’s talk about the difference between an analog and a digital hearing aid, as well as which option you should consider.


Types of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a rather complicated matter as there are so many components of the auditory system that could “break” but there are three main types of hearing loss that we will look at. Understand that this is a much simpler breakdown because there are also variants within these three types of hearing loss (low/high-frequency, for example).

It is important to understand that even within these specific types of hearing loss, it can be characterized by frequency-specific hearing loss. Some hear higher frequencies (whistles, children's voices, etc.) better than others while some may have trouble hearing lower frequencies (bass, thunder, or a deep voice) and hearing loss works very much the same way; some might suffer from low/high-frequency loss which will influence the type of hearing aid you will need. 


Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when the structures that form the outer ear and/or the middle ear, begin breaking down. This prevents sound from reaching the inner ear, to be processed by the brain. Some structures that are responsible for conductive hearing loss include the pinna, ear canal, eardrum, and/or the hearing bones that are misformed or damaged.

Other causes may include an infection in the middle ear, or a build-up of wax may also cause conductive hearing loss. Where necessary, surgery can correct the poorly formed or damaged structures of the outer and/or middle ear, medication can be used to remedy the ear infection, and a hearing healthcare professional can remove excess wax from the ear.


Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the sensory part of the inner ear - the hearing organ - and the neural part of the auditory system are working sub-optimally. As a result, the sound that has been received from the middle ear is unable to be accurately processed by the inner ear and the brain, in order for us to make sense of it.

Sensorineural hearing losses are common amongst older persons, as the sensory parts of the inner ear that help with the processing of sound weaken with age. It may also be caused by a poorly formed hearing organ and/or auditory nerve, regular exposure to loud sounds, specific medications that damage the sensory parts of the inner ear, or it may have been passed down the family line. Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be treated with surgery or medicine. Instead, a behind-the-ear hearing aid that is customized to suit your hearing loss, may be helpful.


Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing loss is, essentially, a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Mixed hearing loss occurs when parts of the outer/middle ear and inner ear are not working well together. Another way to look at it, is the causes of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss combine to form a mixed hearing loss.

For example, you may have lost your hearing due to excessive exposure to noise and may also have developed a middle ear infection. This means that conductive hearing loss is occurring at the same time as sensorineural hearing loss, resulting in mixed hearing loss. Treating mixed hearing loss would be the same for conductive and sensorineural hearing losses and it is important to accurately diagnose and treat each one separately.

Types of Hearing Aids

There is a wide range of hearing aids that all boast their own specific features and benefits. Some of the most common hearing aid types that we see today include behind-the-ear (BTE) and in-the-ear (ITE) or completely-in-canal (CIC). The Go Lite and Go Prime hearing aids are both ITE hearing aids as they sit inside the ear canal.


Behind-the-ear (BTE)

BTE devices are the stereotypical image of a hearing aid, with a device that sits behind your ear, and a wire that feeds into your ear canal. Most of the device’s components are housed in a small plastic shell that sits behind your ear - or “on-the-ear” if it is a mini-BTE device.

These parts are what drive the actual audio processing, which is then sent via a tube, into the ear. BTE devices are typically quite powerful and can offer a number of various features, including alternative sound settings, directional microphones, and better-quality sound.


In-The-Ear (ITE)

ITE devices are much more discreet as they sit completely within the ear, and there is no part of the hearing aid that sits behind, or around, your ear. All the components are housed in a single plastic shell that is small enough to be inserted directly into the ear.

The biggest benefit of an ITE device is that can be completely hidden as it sits almost entirely within the ear. As they also sit within the ear, they are perfect for those who are quite conscious of their hearing aid, as well as those who are still quite active and prefer not having to worry about their hearing aid falling off their ear without realizing it. The only real downside to an ITE device is that the size of the device does limit its features somewhat but they do still offer excellent hearing assistance.


Analog vs. Digital Hearing Aids

Analog Hearing Aids

Analog hearing aids amplify all soundwaves equally, which simply means that they make everything louder in the same way. Analog hearing aids can be programable thanks to the addition of a microchip, which could also allow them to offer different settings for various noise environments.

However, even within these different noise programs, they still amplify sounds in the same way, so there is no accounting for how these environments may change when it comes to frequencies. In reality, this means that if a noisy environment was a challenge for you before, you will most likely find the environment overwhelming with an analog hearing aid.

Analog hearing aids are still beneficial, despite becoming less popular. An analog hearing aid, such as the Go Lite OTC hearing aid, is best suited for smaller environments or for watching TV. The design of analog hearing aids also, generally, lends itself to being much more affordable as they are cheaper to produce so if you are budget-conscious, then analog hearing aids could still be helpful.


Digital Hearing Aids

Digital hearing aids work slightly differently from analog hearing aids, as they convert sound waves into digital signals before sending them to the ear to be processed. The microchips inside a digital hearing aid analyze incoming soundwaves to then replicate them into digital signals, which is also what our brains do when we process audio cues. A digital hearing aid can also be programmed for various noise environments, often with greater results as compared to analog hearing aids. They also offer a much broader range of features thanks to the digital processing of audio.

As digital hearing aids can process sound waves digitally, they can also be fine-tuned to cater specifically to high/low-frequency hearing loss. In practice, this means that if you suffer from low-frequency hearing loss but you can hear high-pitched noises perfectly fine, a digital hearing aid can actively amplify low-frequency sounds while leaving high-frequency sounds at the same level that you hear normally.

Digital hearing aids are becoming more popular these days, and have become the standard offering for those who are looking for treatment for hearing loss. It is not just the ability to amplify specific frequencies to better suit those suffering from hearing loss that is driving the increase in popularity, but it is also thanks to the advancements in technology that are making digital hearing aids better and more affordable.

Digital hearing aids are also much more advanced in background noise reduction, and offer much more advanced features than analog hearing aids. The Go Prime OTC hearing aid is a digital hearing aid that gives you crisp and clear sound, and is excellent if you are looking for added features that could help you hear better in a large variety of environments.


Which is better?

While it is always difficult to say which device is better than the other, digital hearing aids are becoming more popular because they offer incredible benefits. Since digital hearing aids offer a wider range of use cases, along with catering for frequency-specific hearing loss, so it is no wonder that they have become the more popular choice. Though, analog devices do still have their use cases, they are quite limited in their benefits. 
Written by Robert De Wit

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