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How hearing aids work

Last reviewed: 25 June 2024

The most common type of hearing aid for children are behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids. This page explains how BTE hearings aids work. Find information about other types of hearing aids.

With BTE hearing aids, the hearing aid sits over the top of the ear and is attached to either an earmould (which fits snugly in the ear) or a soft plastic dome (open fit). The open fit option is more suitable for older children due to the small parts and for those who have mild or moderate deafness.

The hearing aid microphone picks up sound and processes it digitally to make it louder and clearer. The sound is then sent either through the tubing of the earmould into the ear canal or a through a thin wire attached to a soft plastic dome that fits into the ear canal.

Programming hearing aids

Hearing aids amplify quieter sounds more than louder sounds so that they always stay within a child’s comfortable hearing range. Your audiologist will use your child’s hearing test results to programme their hearing aids to meet their deafness and needs.

Hearing aids often have several different listening programmes for different situations (for example, in normal and noisy listening situations and when listening to music).

When children are very young, it’s likely that they’ll only have one programme and there won’t be any controls or buttons to worry about. As your child gets older and is able to control the hearing aids themselves, programmes can be introduced.

Features of behind-the-ear hearing aids

Photo: Behind-the-ear hearing aid


The hearing aid's microphone can be programmed to be omnidirectional (pick up sounds from a wide area all around the wearer) or directional (give priority to sounds coming from directly in front of the wearer).

Most hearing aids will be programmed to automatically switch between omnidirectional and directional settings depending on the listening environment.


If the hearing aids have controls, they may include the following.

  • Volume control. Many digital hearing aids don’t have a volume control or only have a very basic one. This is because the hearing aid can adjust itself automatically to the listening environment.
  • Programme button. There may be a separate button for switching between programmes, or it may be part of the function switch (see below). Your audiologist will explain which programmes there are and in which situations they should be used.
  • Function switch. Used to turn the hearing aid on and off. It can sometimes be used to switch between listening programmes.

Battery compartment

Most hearing aids are turned on and off by opening and closing the battery drawer. A child-safe battery door lock is a safety feature which stops children from being able to open the battery compartment and swallow the battery. The lock is usually secured with a small screwdriver.

Find out more about battery safety.


Elbows (also called tone hooks or earhooks) are removeable extensions that attach to the hearing aid and hook over the top of the ear. They help make sure the hearing aid fits snugly on the ear and stays in place when your child is moving or playing. Elbows are particularly helpful for very young children or those with small ears.

LED visual status indicator

Some hearing aids will have an LED visual status indicator. It will glow different colours to indicate when the hearing aid is working, when there may be a fault, or when the battery needs changing.

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Ali Gets Hearing Aids

For a fun and child-friendly way to explain hearing aids to your child, check out our free comic, Ali Gets Hearing Aids.