Cell Phones and Hearing Aids

Hearing loss on the rise

The number of Americans with hearing loss has doubled during the past 30 years, with recent numbers indicating 31.5 million Americans suffer from hearing difficulties, with the majority of these people (65%) being younger than 65 years of age.

Look for compatibility

Conversing on telephones/cell phones can be especially difficult for individuals with hearing loss.  There are no visual cues to follow, and often the sound is distorted or unclear. Wearing hearing aids can help improve telecommunicative success, as long as both the hearing aid and cell phone are compatible.

How it works

When using a digital cell phone, the conversation is transmitted over a wireless network using radio waves.  The radio waves emitted by the cell phone create a pulsing electromagnetic field around the phone’s antenna.  This pulsing energy can potentially be picked up by the hearing aid’s microphone or telecoil circuit and is perceived by the hearing aid user as a buzzing sound. Additionally, some magnetic interference originating from the cell phone’s electronics — like the display, backlight, keypad, or battery — can also be picked up by the hearing aid user, increasing the level of interference.

New rating system helps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has passed regulations helping to ensure greater hearing aid compatibility with regard to wireless phones. The new rules require cell phone makers and service providers to make their phones work better for people using hearing aids and cochlear implants.  A rating tool has been implemented for both cell phones as well as hearing aids. Cell phones as well as hearing aids are marked with M or T ratings. The M-rating refers to cell phone compatibility when using the hearing aid in a standard microphone mode. The T-rating refers to compatibility when the hearing aid’s telecoil is being utilized.  A telecoil is a tiny coil of wire inside a hearing aid that will allow a hearing aid to pick up the magnetic fields generated by phones and converts those fields into sound.

The higher the combined “M” or “T” rating between the two devices, the clearer the sound will be. Cell phones that work well with hearing aids will have a microphone (M) rating of M3 or M4, and/or a telecoil (T) rating of T3 or T4.  Hearing aid manufacturers will use a similar rating system to let you know how well the hearing aid will work in the microphone or telecoil mode. Hearing aids will be rated from M1 to M4; a higher rating will mean you hear less noise and have a better connection. The rating for the telecoil will be T1 to T4, again with the higher rating yielding better performance.

When the M or T ratings are added up between the cell phone and the hearing aid, a combined rating of M4/T4 would be considered useable, or able to complete brief calls but not acceptable for regular phone use.  A combined rating of M5/T5 would be considered normal, or acceptable for regular phone use. And a combined rating of M6/T6 would be considered best,  providing highly useable excellent performance.

Start typing and press Enter to search