Many people who need hearing aids don’t wear them. This may be because they think hearing aids don’t work well or are uncomfortable, difficult to use and too noticeable. But hearing aids have improved in sound quality and accuracy over the years. Modern hearing aids can also be very discreet and easy to use.
A hearing aid won’t restore your normal hearing. But it can make certain sounds louder, helping you to communicate better with family, friends and work colleagues. If you have hearing loss, wearing a hearing aid can improve your quality of life.
It takes time to learn to use a hearing aid, and to get used to wearing one. If you’ve tried a hearing aid in the past without any success, it’s worth trying one again. There are many different types of hearing aid available.
A hearing aid can help around one in every two people with hearing loss. You can have trouble hearing properly for many different reasons. Hearing loss can be caused by a problem with your inner, middle or outer ear or the way sound signals travel to your brain.
A hearing aid may improve hearing loss that’s getting worse as you get older. This may be caused by damage to the hair cells in your inner ears.
A hearing aid may help if sound can’t pass easily from your outer ear to your inner ear. This may be caused by a blocked outer ear or a problem with your middle ear, such as a build up of fluid.
A hearing aid may also help if your auditory nerve is damaged, which means sound signals don’t travel to your brain. This may be caused by an infection or injury.
If you have tinnitus (buzzing or ringing in your ears), a hearing aid may help your symptoms. This is because if you hear background sounds more clearly, you’re less likely to notice the sounds coming from your ears.
If you have problems with your hearing and would like further advice, you could start with a hearing check online. Some high street chemists and opticians offer free NHS hearing check-ups too.
However, if your hearing has become suddenly worse or you’re having problems with just one ear in particular, speak to your GP. They may refer you to an audiologist (a healthcare professional who specialises in hearing problems). Or they may suggest you see an ENT specialist (a doctor who specialises in ear, nose and throat conditions). This is more likely to happen if you have sudden hearing loss, tinnitus or ear pain.
Your audiologist will ask you questions about your hearing and check your ears. They’ll then test your hearing to see if they can find a cause and if a hearing aid will help.
You may be asked to listen to sounds through headphones at different pitches and volumes. Every time you hear a sound, you’ll be asked to press a button.
You may need to wear a headband with a pad that sends vibrations to your inner ear, which sends sounds signals to your brain. Again, you’ll be asked to press a button each time you hear something.
You may also be asked to listen to a voice recording and then repeat back what you’ve heard.
The results of your hearing tests are plotted on a special chart or graph called an audiogram. This helps your audiologist find the best hearing aid or treatment for you.
Hearing aids are small devices that you wear in or behind your ear. They’re made up of a microphone, amplifier and speaker. The microphone picks up sound and converts this into electrical signals that are sent to the amplifier. The amplifier makes the sounds louder and sends them to your ear through the speaker.
With behind-the-ear hearing aids, the microphone, amplifier and speaker are attached to an ear mould that fits around your ear. With an in-ear hearing aid, these are part of the ear mould itself.
Hearing aids make all noises louder, including background noise. But most of them can be tuned into certain sounds you’re struggling to hear before the sound is made louder by the amplifier.
Hearing aids won’t make your hearing perfect, but they’ll help you hear everyday sounds more clearly.
Hearing aids are available in analogue and digital versions. Analogue and digital hearing aids work in different ways. Most hearing aids are now digital whether they’re available on the NHS or privately.
Analogue hearing aids
Analogue hearing aids are the cheapest type of hearing aid. They increase all noises, including background noise. Your audiologist will set the quality of sound you hear when the hearing aid is fitted. This then can’t be changed at all. But you can change the volume of the hearing aid yourself, turning it up when the noise is quiet and down when it’s loud.
Digital hearing aids
Digital hearing aids work like a mini computer. They can be programmed to suit your individual hearing loss and make the sounds you hear as clear as possible. You can even programme them to suit different environments, such as a quiet living room or a crowded restaurant. This reduces background noise and makes listening to conversations much more comfortable.
Hearing aids come in various shapes and sizes. The best style for you will depend on how you wear your hearing aid and whether your hearing loss is mild or severe.
- Behind-the-ear hearing aids have a plastic case that sits behind your ear and an ear mould that fits into your outer ear. They’re the easiest hearing aids to use. Open fit, behind-the-ear hearing aids have a soft earpiece instead of an ear mould. This can make sounds more natural. But you’ll only be able to use an open fit hearing aid if you have mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
- In-the-ear hearing aids fit completely inside your outer ear. They’re usually less noticeable than behind-the-ear hearing aids, but may need repairing more often. Different types are available to suit different levels of hearing loss.
- Completely-in-canal hearing aids are smaller and less noticeable than other styles of hearing aid. They’re almost totally hidden inside your ear canal. This can make them fiddly to use. You may not be able to use one if you have severe hearing loss or get lots of ear infections.
- You may benefit from a bone conduction hearing aid if you have conductive hearing loss. This is when sound can’t pass easily from your outer ear to your inner ear. You may also need to wear one of these if you can’t wear one of the more common types of hearing aid. This could be because you’ve had surgery or your ear has an unusual shape. Bone conduction hearing aids work by passing vibrations through your skull directly to your inner ear. They can be fiddly to use.
If you have poor eyesight or find it hard to use small controls, a hearing aid that you wear on your body may be helpful. This type of hearing aid has a small box that you can put in your pocket or attach to your clothes. The box is connected to a plastic ear mould by a wire.
If your hearing loss is severe and isn’t helped by a hearing aid, you may be recommended to have a cochlear implant. This is an electronic device made up of several parts that are surgically inserted into different areas of your ear. This includes your inner ear and under the skin behind your ear.
Your audiologist will advise you about caring for your hearing aid so it works well and lasts as long as possible. Your hearing aid should come with instructions about how to use it and clean it. You may find the following tips helpful too.
- If you have a behind-the-ear hearing aid, remove and wash the ear mould in warm soapy water every night. Don’t wash the hearing aid itself.
- Clean your in-the-ear hearing aid regularly with a soft, dry cloth, making sure to remove any earwax which may have built up on it. Never use a damp cloth or any fluid to clean it.
- When you're not wearing your hearing aid, store it in a cool dry place, away from heat, strong light and moisture.
- Change the batteries as soon as they stop working.
- Check your hearing aid tubing for cracks or hardening. It may need to be replaced every three to six months.
Wearing a hearing aid shouldn’t make you feel embarrassed. Think of it as no different to wearing glasses or contact lenses if your sight isn’t as good as it should be. Lots of people, of all ages, wear hearing aids for many different reasons.
It may take you a while to get used to wearing a hearing aid. Sounds may seem different or odd at first. You’ll need to gradually build up wearing your hearing aid, so you get used to the different sounds. This may take several months. Your audiologist will tell you how long to wear your hearing aid each day until you’re wearing it all the time. You may find it helpful to try out your hearing aid in different places and situations.
Practise putting in and taking out your hearing aid comfortably. It may help if you use a mirror. Learn how to use the volume controls and other settings too. The controls will vary from model to model. Many digital hearing aids have different programmes and settings. These change how your hearing responds when you’re in a noisy environment or when you’re listening to music.
You may find it hard to use normal telephones with your hearing aid. Your hearing aid may make a squealing sound when you put your ear near the phone handle. Most hearing aids have a loop setting to use with listening equipment, such as induction loops and hearing-compatible telephones. Loop systems and devices take sound directly to your hearing aid and cut out background noise.
Learn how to replace your hearing aid batteries. Carry spare batteries with you at all times.
Wearing hearing aids doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hear perfectly. It can help if your family and friends know to speak clearly and at a normal pace (not too fast or too slow). They should talk a bit more loudly than usual, but there’s no need for them to shout. Reduce any background noise and ask them to face you when they talk to you. Hand gestures and movements (e.g. nodding/shaking their head) may help, especially if you’re in a noisy environment.
If you have any problems with using your hearing aid, ask your audiologist for advice.
It’s important to keep your hearing aid dry. This is because water can damage the electronic parts and the battery. You'll need to remove your hearing aid when you go swimming and store it safely in a waterproof container. You’ll also need to remove it or be careful to keep it dry when you have a bath or shower.
Swimming pools have bad acoustics, which means your hearing aid will make background noise louder than usual. So even if you wear your hearing aid when you’re out of the water, you may not be able to hear everything clearly.
It’s important to tell the lifeguard or swimming teacher if you have any level of hearing loss. You may not hear them blow their whistle or shout in an emergency.
If your hearing loss is in both ears, you should wear a hearing aid in each ear. Wearing two hearing aids will make the sounds clearer, especially if there’s background noise. It will also help you to work out where sounds are coming from.
If you have hearing loss in just one ear or your hearing loss is worse in one ear than in the other, you may need only one hearing aid. You may also need only one hearing aid if you have regular or long-term infections in one of your ears.
If you have two hearing aids, make sure you know which ear mould goes with which hearing aid. This will mean you can put them back together easily when you clean them. If you have two hearing aids, these may be colour coded, so you know which ear they go into. This is usually red for right and blue for left, but check with your audiologist.
It can take time to get used to wearing a new hearing aid. At first, you may have the following problems.
- Your hearing aid may feel uncomfortable. But the more you wear it, the more you’ll get used to it. Your audiologist will be able to tell you how long to wear it to begin with.
- Everything may sound strange and loud, even your own voice. Most people get used to this after wearing their hearing aid for a while, but it can take several months.
- You may get feedback, such as whistling or squealing, from your hearing aid. This may be because your hearing aid isn’t fitting properly or has earwax in it.
About eight to 12 weeks after you’ve had your hearing aid fitted, you should be offered a follow-up appointment. This is to check your hearing aid is fitted correctly and you’re not having any problems. Sometimes, your hearing aid may need adjusting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you need to. If you have problems with your hearing aids before your appointment, contact the audiology service.
- Action on Hearing Loss
0808 808 0123
- Ears. Oxford Handbook of Geriatric Medicine (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published July 2012
- Presbyacusis. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked February 2015
- Ear, nose and throat. Oxford Handbook of General Practice (online). 4th ed. Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published April 2014
- Nursing patients with sensory system problems (eyes, ears, nose, and throat). Oxford Handbook of Adult Nursing (online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published August 2010
- Hearing tests. PatientPlus. patient.info/patientplus, last checked September 2016
- Types of hearing aids. Action on Hearing Loss. www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk, accessed April 2017
- Hearing loss. The MSD Manuals. www.msdmanuals.com, last full review/revision October 2016
- Looking after your hearing aids. Action on Hearing Loss. www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk, accessed April 2017
- How to get used to your hearing aid. Action on Hearing Loss. www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk, accessed April 2017
- Deaf friendly swimming. National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS). www.swimming.org, accessed April 2017
- About hearing aids. Action on Hearing Loss. www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk, accessed April 2017
- Getting hearing aids. Action on Hearing Loss. www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk, reviewed January 2016
- Action on Hearing Loss
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Reviewed by Alice Rossiter, Specialist Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, June 2017
Expert reviewer Mr Anil Banerjee, Ear, Nose and Throat Consultant
Next review due June 2020
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
We are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Meet the team
Head of Health Content
- Dylan Merkett – Lead Editor
- Natalie Heaton – Specialist Editor, User Experience
- Pippa Coulter – Specialist Editor, Content Library
- Alice Rossiter – Specialist Editor, Insights
- Laura Blanks – Specialist Editor, Quality
- Michelle Harrison – Editorial Assistant
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: email@example.com. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way