Hearing aids can seem complicated. Do you understand or even know about all of the features your hearing aids include? Do they have directional microphones? What about a volume control or wireless connectivity? If you are unsure, you’re not alone. I’m amazed at how many times patients aren’t even sure if their hearing aids have multiple programs. If they do, they’re often unsure of what those programs are or what they do. Many times, easily accessed features that are meant to improve hearing for the listener go unused. One of the more under-utilized features in most hearing aids is the telecoil or “t-coil.”
A t-coil consists of a tiny coil of wire wrapped around a metal core. The core will generate an electric current in the coil when it is in the presence of a magnetic field. It can act as an alternate or supplemental source for sound coming into a hearing aid. Normally, a hearing aid gathers sound through its microphone or microphones. It then amplifies that sound and sends it into the ear canal of the listener. When a telecoil is used as the input source instead, the hearing aid bypasses the microphone and picks up the electro-magnetic signal produced by a telephone or an assistive listening device, such as an FM system. Then, the hearing aid will amplify that signal and convert it to an audio signal. The result is a clear signal with less interference from background noise.
The t-coil was originally designed only for use with a regular land-line telephone, which has a speaker that is driven by magnets. When someone wearing a hearing aid that has a t-coil switches the t-coil on, the sound heard through the phone is often much stronger. Now, there are many other systems that can be accessed with a t-coil in order to improve sound quality.
Telecoils are especially helpful when there is a lot of background noise. If you happen to have access to an assistive listening device, such as an FM system, you may find that you can hear much better through your t-coil with the FM system than with just the hearing aid microphones. This is because the hearing aid microphones are often turned off when the t-coil is in use. The sound that is being amplified comes directly from a microphone in the assistive listening device, which is often much closer to the sound source. This decreases the amount of background noise that is amplified. Many public places such as movie theaters, auditoriums and sports stadiums provide assistive listening devices to their patrons at no charge. Many of these systems are hearing aid compatible. So, if your hearing aid has a t-coil, you can easily improve your hearing in the situations that are often most difficult.
A telecoil can provide the extra help you need to hear in situations that otherwise might seem impossible. Ask your hearing healthcare provider about telecoils and whether your hearing aid has one. The more you know, the better you’ll hear.