By Susan Homitz - an audiologist for America Hears
Today, almost everyone has a cell phone — young and old — and it can be a challenge for users of digital hearing aids to know how to handle their phones properly. Issues such as feedback and distortion can arise, as can conflicts between cell phone and hearing aid technology, and the hearing aid user may be tempted to throw both the hearing aids and the cell phone out the window. But the truth is that cell phone and hearing aid technology can coexist without major problems — it just takes a little research.
The Issues with Digital Hearing Aids and Cell Phones
For users of digital hearing aids, cell phones can bring a host of problems. Cell phones pick up radio frequency (RF) interference, which can cause buzzing and other irritating sounds. These sounds then are picked up by hearing aids, making hearing the actual conversation on the cell phone extremely difficult. Digital hearing aids with telecoils can also pick up magnetic interference from the backlight, display, and keypad of the phone. And conflicts with cell phone and hearing aid technology may also cause general feedback or distortion. For these reasons, it is important to make sure that you purchase both the right cell phone and the right hearing aid to eliminate these issues as much as possible.
Find the Right Cell Phone
If you use digital hearing aids and do not already have a cell phone, you will want to purchase one that will give you the least amount of trouble. In July 2003, the FCC modified its legislation and required all cell phone makers to create models that are compatible with digital hearing aids, which makes things easier for hearing aid users but still requires a certain amount of research before a purchase is made. In addition, if you want to buy an older or used cell phone, you will need to know what to look for to ensure that the phone will work with the hearing aid technology you have.
Cell phones have ratings that can help you determine if the model you are considering will work with certain hearing aid technology. Look for a cell phone that has an M3 or M4 rating if you are using it with a hearing aid microphone. If you are using a telecoil, you will need a cell phone that has a T3 or T4 rating. Ideally, your phone will have both of these ratings. In addition, you want to make sure your cell phone has CDMA transmission technology. Most major cell phone carriers offer models that have features that do not cause issues with hearing aid technology.
The best cell phones for users of digital hearing aids are flip phones, rather than flat models. These phones allow you to better position the receiver in relation to your hearing aid. You should make also sure that you have the option to turn off the backlight and the display of your cell phone as these can both cause interference with your hearing aid technology.
If you use digital hearing aids with telecoils, you can also purchase a neck loop that can help with cell phone interference. Many may already be familiar with this item, which is occasionally used to help those with hearing impairment at many entertainment venues. You can plug your neck loop into the headset jack of your cell phone to eliminate much of the annoying buzzing sounds caused by the conflict with the hearing aid technology.
Finally, it is best if you can purchase your cell phone in person at a store, rather than over the Internet. That way, you can test it out with your hearing aid and make sure that it will work for you. And just like with digital hearing aids, cell phones usually come with a trial period. If you take your cell phone home and find that it is in fact not compatible with your hearing aid technology, you can usually return it for a refund and try another model until you find one that works for you.
Find the Right Digital Hearing Aids
Some types of hearing aid technology will work better with cell phones than others. If using a cell phone is important to you, then you will need to make sure that you choose one of these models. Look for digital hearing aids that have a built-in RF immunity if at all possible. This will eliminate many, if not all, of the issues you may have with a cell phone. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer about not only RF immunity but also if the company's digital hearing aids have been tested with cell phones.
Use the Cell Phone Properly
If you have a behind-the-ear or in-the-ear hearing aid with a telecoil, you need to make sure that you position your cell phone near the telecoil rather than on your ear. If you have a smaller hearing aid, such as a CIC, you will simply need to position the phone so that there is space between the aid and the phone receiver, which is easier to do with the aforementioned flip phones rather than flat phones. Finally, it may be easiest to purchase a cell phone that has a speaker option. That way you do not need to place the phone near your ear at all, virtually eliminating all hearing aid technology conflicts up front.
Digital hearing aid users may have found in the past that they could not hear properly when using a cell phone, and may have given up the use of cell phones in frustration. However, with today's hearing aid technology and a little bit of research, one can find the right combination of hearing aid model and cell phone model that will allow virtually problem-free use. Above all, make sure that you test out any cell phone model with your hearing aid before you make a final purchase to ensure that you will be pleased with the setup for the long term — or at least until the next wave of hearing aid technology is released.