What is Binaural Hearing?
Human beings have the natural ability of binaural hearing, that is hearing in both the ears. It gives a feeling of balanced hearing, thus making life more relaxing and balanced. This balanced reception of sound is termed as the stereo effect, which is quite soothing in contrast to monoaural hearing, which refers to the phenomenon of hearing only with one ear - which would give a very unpleasant and disturbing hearing experience, often leading to dangerous troubles.
Hence, Binaural Hearing Aids!
Now that you know how important binaural hearing is, you will get to understand why binaural hearing aids are necessary. With binaural hearing aids, you would experience a more balanced and natural hearing. Often, there are individuals who experience asymmetrical hearing loss, that is they experience a more noticeable hearing loss in one ear and very little loss in the other. In such cases, Audiologists recommend wearing hearing aids in both the ears to have a proper sound perception.
‘But if I have hearing loss in one ear, why should I wear in both the ears?’
Yes, I can hear you say this! There are so many individuals who ask, ‘Why should I need to wear hearing aids in both the ears, even if I have hearing loss in only one ear?’ They feel that it will be good to treat only the ‘bad ear’ and that there is no need to wear a hearing aid machine in the other. Hence, they think of wearing hearing aids only in the ear having noticeable hearing loss.
Well, there is a reason behind why Audiologists recommend binaural hearing aids. Most people have hearing loss in both the ears, that is, bilateral hearing loss; it is simply more noticeable and prominent in one ear with the other having very little or negligible loss - which people often ignore and don’t bother to treat the better ear. This is the biggest mistake these people make because if an individual having bilateral hearing loss wears only one hearing aid in the ear having a more pronounced hearing loss, he or she would experience an imbalanced hearing, thus appearing ‘lopsided’.
It is similar to the case with eyeglasses. If you wear a single glass on only one eye, thinking that the other eye is having a normal vision, you would not have a proper sense of depth perception of your vision area. Similarly, if you wear a hearing aid only in your ear with a relatively perceptible loss, you would not get the proper hearing perception. Therefore, to make the individual experience a balanced hearing perception, it is customary to provide two hearing aids to him or her. Each of them would give a unique degree of amplification as required by the respective ear depending upon the intensity and degree of hearing impairment each ear is having. This is very similar to the way eyeglasses are prescribed - that is depending upon the amount of vision impairment, two different lenses are prescribed.
It is very rare for a person to have a perfect hearing loss only in one ear; that is, a perfect unilateral hearing loss is not a very common thing.
Difference Between Binaural Hearing and Bilateral Hearing Aid Fitting
While binaural hearing refers to the process in which the brain makes use of the information received from both of the ears, bilateral or binaural hearing aid fitting refers to the technology used to assist in a binaural hearing in case of a hearing loss present, either with the help of amplification received from hearing aids. In short, binaural hearing aid fitting is the process of fitting a hearing-impaired individual with hearing aids in both the ears so as to assist him or her in hearing and to help his or her brain process and perceive those sounds.
What are the Benefits of Binaural Hearing Aids?
Dual amplification on both the ears makes it possible for locating the direction of sounds and also identifying how far the sound source is from the listener. In other words, a binaural hearing aid fitting gives you two different perspectives of the sound environment an individual is in at a given point of time. Fitting hearing aid only in one ear might also result in fatigue and discomfort, as the person would have to strain and put extra stress while trying to understand that which he or she is listening, for example trying to understand what a person is trying to convey while participating in conversations, especially for a prolonged period of time. In short, using binaural hearing aids would prevent you from experiencing an impaired sound perception and having a distorted and imbalanced hearing.
Binaural Hearing Boosts Up Brain Power!
You would probably be surprised to hear that amplification in both of the ears increases an individual’s brain power. Let us first get hold of how the brain plays the role in the sound perception of each ear.
Our brain is divided into two hemispheres - the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. The left side is responsible for controlling the right side of the body, while on the other hand, the right hemisphere is responsible for controlling the left side of the body. Hence, the sound perception of the right ear is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, and that of the left ear is controlled by the right hemisphere. In simpler words, the sound that enters the left ear is processed by the right side of the brain, while that which enters the right ear is processed by the brain’s left hemisphere. After that, both the hemispheres work together and coordinate with each other to process and interpret the sounds.
Research studies have proved that the brain works better when it processes sounds received from both the ears properly. This further enhances and improves the brain’s speech processing skills, thus enabling you to understand speech even in a noisy environment. This means that the brain’s ability to pay attention to the important sounds increases, and therefore, it can ignore the unimportant background noises.
Also, studies show that when an individual uses binaural hearing aids, they require less amplification than they would have required using one hearing aid. This enhances the sound quality and improves the outcomes with hearing aids, thus reducing the chances of sound distortion.
Let’s Sum It Up!
In a nutshell, we can say that the following are the principal benefits of using binaural hearing aids -
Localisation - To understand localisation let us go back to its history. Lord Rayleigh, an accomplished scientist from the 19th and the early 20th centuries made a very important contribution in the field of physics, optics, acoustics and the concept of sound perception. Rayleigh developed a theory known as the Duplex Theory of Sound Localisation, that discusses how the differences in the information or the sound stimulus received by each of the ears are useful for determining the particular location of the sound - a phenomenon known as sound localisation.
Better Speech Recognition - With binaural hearing aids one would experience a more improved and enhanced speech recognition. Speech is much better to understand even while in a noisy area. The mechanism behind this is very simple - while one ear concentrates on the speech, the other one focuses on diminishing the distracting background noises.
Better Spatial Attention - This enables you to determine the direction of the sound source, thus enabling you to focus on the important sounds by diminishing the unimportant ones.
Better Sound Quality - Suppose you are listening to some music, wearing two hearing aids would enhance your music listening experience, thus enabling you to enjoy a rich and balanced sound perception. Unilateral hearing might make sounds appear unnatural and distorted. Also, wearing one hearing aid might make you raise up the volume much higher as would have required with binaural fitting. This, in turn, might worsen your hearing loss.
Better Auditory Nerve and Brain Stimulation - Wearing hearing aids on both the ears improves the stimulation of the auditory nerve in each ear as well as the brain, thus keeping them active and functional. Studies show that if the auditory nerves are not stimulated well, the brain too is not well-stimulated, thus ruining the hearing experience of the individual. This condition results in Auditory Deprivation - a condition in which the brain fails to recognise and perceive the sounds due to the lack of a proper auditory stimulus.
Wearing Two Hearing Aids Ensure Your Safety - Since binaural hearing aid fitting gives you a proper and undistorted sound perception, your chances of meeting with accidental injuries reduces. Therefore, wearing two hearing aids increases your safety and make you fully aware of your surroundings.
Let’s simplify the point with an example. Suppose you are walking down the street and you are wearing a hearing aid in the left ear because you have a loss in that one. Now imagine that a car is approaching from behind you from your right side. Now since the hearing aid is on your left ear, you will have the perception that the honking of the car is coming from the left side. So by natural instinct, this wrong perception would let you move towards the right side from which the car is actually approaching. This is very dangerous and might lead to accidents!
Thus the ability to determine from which direction the sound source is approaching requires the proper coordination between both of the ears. So binaural hearing aids give you the proper sense of direction about the source of the sound.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t you want to stay safe and healthy year after year?
Sadly, there is a huge section of the population who still needs to be made aware of the benefits of a binaural fitting.
Consult your Audiologist to know about the outcomes with both the monoaural and binaural hearing aids. Try both to check out the experience you would get with both.