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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • June 2017
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Wireless technology

Hearing aids have become very sophisticated over the years, with features undreamt of just a generation ago. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the advent of wireless connectivity. Thanks to the proliferation of Bluetooth® technology, today’s hearing devices are more versatile than ever, and featuring unparalleled sound quality and convenience.

Bluetooth® is a wireless communications system that allows a variety of electronic devices, including computers, smartphones and personal audio players, to exchange data — in essence, communicating with one another. When paired with hearing aids, Bluetooth® allows the user to stream signals from those devices directly to the hearing aids.

Bluetooth® enabled hearing aids come with a controller for transmitting and receiving wireless signals to and from other Bluetooth® devices. By sending data through the wireless spectrum instead of over the airwaves, there is no need for the internal microphone to pick up and amplify sound. The result is clearer, more natural sound. The hearing aid can connect with many different devices including television sets, cell phones, GPS systems and even other medical devices.

Wireless connectivity does come with a price: increased power demand. Most hearing aid batteries are tiny and unable to supply enough power for a steady Bluetooth® connection. To get around this, assistive listening devices called streamers have been developed. Usually worn around the neck, streamers provide a communication link between devices, picking up Bluetooth® signals and transmitting them to and from hearing aids via an FM signal or electromagnetic field. In essence, the streamer works as a personal remote control for your hearing aids, enabling you to change the hearing program, raise or lower the volume and mute the streaming sound — all with the push of a button.

Certain situations require a little extra boost. In public places where large groups congregate — e.g., meetings, lectures, churches, movie theaters, conference rooms and museums — background noise can make it difficult to pick up speech. One solution is to use a wireless FM system. This portable device comes with a microphone that is placed near the speaker for transmitting sounds over radio frequencies and a receiver that attaches directly to the hearing aids. Because the microphone focuses on the source of the sound, background noise is reduced and you are better able to understand speech in noisy environments.

Another wireless option for optimizing your hearing aids in public places is a telecoil, or T-coil. This small copper coil was originally created to boost the magnetic signal from telephone handsets, amplifying speech and making it easier to hear. Nowadays, many public places are equipped with hearing loops: wires that encircle a room and transmit sounds electromagnetically. These signals are picked up by the telecoil. The user merely needs to turn the T-switch on; no additional equipment is needed. Hearing loops are commonly found in classrooms, theaters, churches and other public places. Infrared systems work in a similar fashion, but use invisible beams of light to transmit sounds, picked up by the T-coil, to a receiver. 

Thomas Parry, Au.D, FAAA

Thomas Parry Au.D., FAAA is an audiologist serving all of northeastern Wisconsin with Appleton Audiology Associates and Hearing Services of Wisconsin. Thomas obtained his degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Western Michigan University. He has extensive experience in both hospital and private practice settings. He currently offices in Appleton, New London, Waupaca, Clintonville, Shawano, Antigo and Merrill. Please contact him at 920-560-6748 with any questions regarding identification or treatment of any hearing or ear related issues.

For more information about your hearing and cognitive health, visit our website and locations:

1520 N. Meade St., Appleton • 920-560-6748

723 Superior St., Antigo • 715-627-4199

2801 E. Main St. #5, Merrill • 715-536-0010

205 N. Shawano St., New London • 920-982-3313

1056 E. Green Bay St., Shawano • 715-524-4242

213 N. Main St., Waupaca • 715-258-0088

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