How to Buy Hearing Aids: Do-It-Yourself

DIY - Buy a hearing aid for yourself


To buy and tune a hearing aid yourself without professional help is very doable. Most of the time spent is to understand what you have to do and what to look for. The actual doing part is not difficult. You need to do the basic research described in How to Buy Hearing Aids prior to the steps outlined here.

One approach is to start with a low cost hearing aid and play with it. You will learn a lot and will be surprised by the level of improvement you would be getting. Then you can invest in a better one and use the old one as backup.

Hearing Aid Gain

A word composes of different sounds; some are high and quite, such as d, f, s,t; some are low and loud, such as ah, ay, ee and oo; some low and quite, such as m, n and ng. They are in the shade areas of the following audiogram. Words with no high sounds are more difficult to hear.

sound audiogram

The goal of a hearing aid (HA) is to raise your "aided threshold" to above the shaded area in the audiogram. In the following diagram, the red and black lines indicate the hearing levels for left and right ears and the green line is the "targeted" hearing level when using a hearing aid. The gap indicates the gain (amplification) provided by the hearing aid.

Target hearing level

Find the "Right" Hearing Aid

There are many choices available and the first step is to eliminate those that are not for you. You can start with the following criterions and also add your own. Include personal sound amplifiers in your search as they may be your best bet or they may work as an inexpensive backup unit. Skip the unit if the seller cannot provide you with the information needed for evaluation.

  1. Budget: If the hearing aid is outside your budget, do not consider it. This is a good sanity check for over-spending. Most digital hearing aids require special HA programmer for tuning and you may need an audiologist or HA dispenser to do it for you. Make sure to allocate budget for initial and ongoing adjustments.
  2. Gain: Examine the technical specifications for reference test gain or full-on-gain (FOG) and make sure the gain is sufficient to move your hearing threshold up to the targeted level. If you do not have an audiogram, do a hearing self-assessment test. You can try to listen to some common sounds and have some idea on on your hearing level. If you have severe hearing loss, you should consider getting an audiogram. If your hearing loss is mild, 20-30DB gain would be sufficient.
  3. Low Frequency Gain: The most important frequency range for normal conversation is around 1000 to 2000Hz. The gain in this range should be high comparing to other frequencies. If the low frequency gain is too high, you would have problem understanding a speech as the low frequency noise would mask the speech. This is a common problem for many hearing aids.
  4. Essential Features: You should already have a list during your initial research. Ignore the hearing aid if any essential feature is missing. Here are some suggestions:
    • Equivalent input noise level ≤ 29dB
    • Volume control
    • Saturation sound pressure level (SSPL) ≤ 135dB (140dB is the pain threshold)
  5. Optional Features and Types of Hearing Aid: Prioritize the list developed during the research phase and use your judgement. Here are some suggestions: feedback suppression, directional microphone, profile memory. Put those hearing aids aside if they do not have high priority features.

Repeat the above steps to narrow down your choices and you can adjust your parameters as required. Sometimes you may need to increase your budget due to essential features.

Tuning Your Hearing Aids

There are three types of hearing aids, one has knobs or trims to do the adjustment, the second is self-programmable hearing aids that come with software and accessories that a consumer can tune the hearing aid himself, the third type requires special software and tools that are not generally available to consumers. For the later type, you really do not have much choice other than to pay someone to do it for you; for the second type, simply follow the instructions that come with the hearing aid; for the first type, following the following steps:

  1. Read the user manual thoroughly and understand all available controls.
  2. Select an environment where you most often use your hearing aid. If the hearing aid is for conversation, ask someone to speak to you or turn on the radio to the normal volume.
  3. Adjust the hearing aid volume to a comfortable or normal level.
  4. Adjust other controls one at a time until your find the settings best for you. You may need to fine tune with the volume control also.
  5. Remember the settings. If the hearing aid has memory, save the setting. Without memory, you probably want to be able to get back to it in a hurry.
  6. Repeat the steps for another environment (e.g. phone conversation).

Over-amplification is a problem and will damage your hearing. Always use the lowest possible volume setting. Under some noisy environment, you may need to increase the gain; however remember to turn it down afterwards.

Depending on the number of controls available, the whole tuning process may take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour. The time spent is well worth it and you would be amazed on the money saved.