Your GP can help you get hearing aids if you think you need them.
The models available nowadays on the NHS are a great improvement on those used in the past. They're smaller and neater, and they work better too.
The earlier you get them, the more you'll get out of them - so don't wait until your hearing gets really bad before seeing your GP.
This page covers:
Benefits of hearing aids
Hearing aids won't make your hearing perfect, but they make sounds louder and clearer, reducing the impact hearing loss has on your life.
Hearing aids can:
- help you hear everyday sounds such as the doorbell and phone
- improve your ability to hear speech
- make you feel more confident when talking to people and make it easier for you to follow conversations in different environments
- help you to enjoy listening to music and the TV, at a volume that's comfortable for those around you
But hearing aids only help if you still have some hearing left, so don't put off getting help if your hearing is getting worse.
How to get hearing aids
See your GP if you're having problems with your hearing. They can refer you to a hearing specialist for an assessment if they think you might need a hearing aid.
If your specialist recommends hearing aids, talk to them about the different types available and which is best for you. You may be able to try a few types before choosing one.
Some types may be available to use straight away. Others may need to be custom made after your ear has been measured or a cast of your ear has been taken. These will usually be ready in a few weeks.
When your hearing aid is ready, it will be programmed to suit your level of hearing loss. You'll be shown how to use it and how to look after it.
Another appointment will be arranged for a few weeks later to check how things are going.
Types of hearing aids
A variety of hearing aids are available. The main types are:
Behind the ear hearing aids
Behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids are the most common type.
They're made up of a small plastic device that sits behind your ear.
This is attached with a tube to a piece of plastic that fits in your ear (an earmould) or a soft tip that goes into the opening of your ear (an open fitting).
BTE hearing aids are one of the easiest types to use and are suitable for most people with hearing loss. They're available in a range of colours.
Receiver in the ear hearing aids
Receiver in the ear (RITE) hearing aids are similar to BTE hearing aids.
The main difference is that with RITE hearing aids, the part of the hearing aid that sits behind the ear is smaller and is connected by a thin wire to a speaker placed inside the opening of the ear.
RITE hearing aids are less visible than BTE hearing aids and are suitable for most people with hearing loss, but they can be more fiddly to use than BTE hearing aids.
In the ear hearing aids
In the ear (ITE) hearing aids fill the area just outside the opening of your ear.
They can't be seen from behind, unlike BTE or RITE hearing aids, but they are visible from the side.
ITE hearing aids are suitable for most people with hearing loss, although they can be trickier to use than BTE or RITE hearing aids.
In the canal hearing aids
In the canal (ITC) hearing aids are similar to ITE aids, but are a bit smaller and just fill the opening of the ear.
They're less visible than many other types of hearing aid, but can be trickier to use and aren't usually powerful enough for people with severe hearing loss.
Completely in the canal and invisible in the canal hearing aids
Completely in the canal (CIC) and invisible in the canal (IIC) hearing aids are the smallest types available.
They fit further into the opening of your ear than ITC hearing aids and are barely visible.
But these hearing aids aren't usually powerful enough for people with severe hearing loss. They're also quite fiddly and some can only be put in and taken out by a hearing aid specialist.
CROS/BiCROS hearing aids
CROS and BiCROS hearing aids can help if you've lost hearing in one ear.
They come as a pair. The hearing aid in the ear with hearing loss picks up sound and sends it to a hearing aid in your good ear. This can be done wirelessly or through a wire around the back of your neck.
Body worn hearing aids
Body worn hearing aids are made up of a small box connected to earphones.
The box can be clipped to your clothes or put inside a pocket.
This type of hearing aid may be best if you have severe hearing loss and need a powerful hearing aid, or if you find the controls on smaller hearing aids tricky to use.
NHS hearing aids
Hearing aids are available on the NHS for anyone who needs them.
Your GP can refer you to an NHS hearing aid provider if they think you might need a hearing aid.
The benefits of getting a hearing aid on the NHS include:
- hearing aids are provided for free as a long-term loan
- batteries and repairs are free (there may be a charge if you lose or break your hearing aid and it needs to be replaced)
- you don't have to pay for any follow-up appointments or aftercare
But while several modern hearing aids are available on the NHS, these are usually the BTE or very occasionally the RITE type. You may need to pay for private treatment if you want one of the other types.
The waiting time for getting a hearing aid on the NHS can also sometimes be longer than the wait for private treatment.
Paying for hearing aids
If you don't mind paying for treatment, you can choose to go to a private hearing aid provider directly.
This may mean you can pick from a wider range of hearing aids, including the smaller, less visible models.
If you choose to pay for private treatment:
- make sure you research typical costs of hearing aids and any aftercare - you can pay anything from £500 to £3,500 or more for a single hearing aid
- shop around to see what types of hearing aid are available from different providers
- try to avoid being steered towards expensive models - there may be cheaper models that will suit your needs just as well
Batteries, repairs and replacements
If you have an NHS hearing aid, you can get free batteries and repairs from any NHS hearing aid service. Ask your hearing specialist (audiologist) about services in your area.
You may need to come in for an appointment, or you may be able to send off for a battery or repair in the post.
Your local hearing aid service can also replace hearing aids that have been lost or damaged, although there may be a charge for this.
If you have a private hearing aid, contact your hearing aid provider if you need a new battery, repair or replacement.
You may have to pay for this service if it's not already included in your payment plan.
Help and support if you wear hearing aids
Adjusting to hearing aids can be difficult at first. It may take a few weeks or months to get used to them.
You'll have follow-up appointments after they're fitted to check how things are going, but get in touch with your audiologist at any point if you're having problems.
Several hearing loss organisations can also provide help and support if you're adapting to hearing loss or life with a hearing aid.
Action on Hearing Loss has a hearing aid support service, which is run by trained volunteers who can help you get the best out of your hearing aids.
Other organisations that can provide information and advice include:
Article provided by NHS Choices
Record managed by Oxfordshire Family Information Service