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  • Writer's pictureDavid Engelman

What are Hearing Loops and Telecoils? An Easy Way to Improve Your Hearing Aid Experience

Updated: Jan 22


Couple enjoying a performance, using their hearing aid telecoils with a hearing loop.

What Is a Hearing Loop?


A hearing loop, or an “audio induction loop”, is a type of hearing assistive technology that works by using a magnetic field to convert audio signals into electricity, which can then be picked up, amplified, and converted back into sound by a hearing aid.  A loop is made up of wiring that emits the required magnetic field, and is commonly found in theatres, auditoriums, and places of worship, where the wiring will usually be “looped” around the perimeter of a room or seating area.  But you’ll also likely encounter them at railway stations, banks, and many other places as well.  Some people even get them installed in their homes. So, advanced discussions of electromagnetism aside, how exactly can these loops be used, and how can they increase the benefit you could be getting from your hearing aids?

 

Suppose you struggle to hear the dialogue while enjoying a play at the theatre, even while wearing your hearing aids.  A hearing loop would be able to magnetically pick up the actors’ voices and put the sound directly into your ears via your hearing aids.  This would lead to a much cleaner, crisper audio quality, and much better hearing and understanding of the performance.  The technology can similarly be used in any other place that has a hearing loop, where it could, for example, allow you to hear a cashier at the supermarket better, or hear an announcement at a train station more clearly.  It is important to note, that the loop must be “switched on” by the venue to work, and sometimes this can be an issue in smaller places where the loop isn’t regularly needed. If a place has a hearing loop, this will usually be indicated by showing a symbol that looks something like this:


Hearing loop symbol, advising someone to activate their hearing aid telecoil.
Hearing loop symbol.

What Is a Telecoil?


To utilise a hearing loop with your hearing aids, your hearing aid must have something called a telecoil (hence the "T" in the above symbol) built into it.  A telecoil is a small coil of wire that senses the magnetic field from the loop, inducing an electrical voltage, which can then be converted back into sound for your hearing aid.  Hearing aids do not necessarily have a telecoil built into them by default, so it is important to discuss this with your audiologist when considering hearing aids.  Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC) and behind-the-ear (BTE) styles of hearing aid will often have a telecoil as a standard feature, but this is not guaranteed across all hearing aid manufacturers and the various sub-types of the hearing aid style options.  Larger versions of in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids can have a telecoil if it is requested by the audiologist, but smaller models may not be able to accommodate one.  Although due to how a telecoil is typically positioned within an ITE hearing aid, the performance with a hearing loop may not be as optimal as it would be in a RIC or BTE hearing aid.    


How Do I Activate My Hearing Aid's Telecoil to Use With a Loop? 


To benefit from a hearing loop, your audiologist will put a special program or set of programs in your hearing aids, that can be manually operated by you.  The program will often be referred to as a “T” program (“T” for “telecoil”) and can either be accessed via a button on the hearing aid itself, through an app on your smartphone, or via a remote control

 

To use a real world example, suppose you are attending a theatre that has a hearing loop. After you’ve arrived, found your seat, and settled in, you would activate the T program on your hearing aid shortly before the performance begins.  This would then connect your hearing aids to the theatre’s loop, allowing you to enjoy the show with much greater clarity.  Once the performance has ended, or perhaps even during the interval, it would be important to turn the T program off and use the “default” program of the hearing aids.  This is because the T program will not allow you to hear someone next to you, or general sounds around you.  And if you are in a place without a loop, or where the loop is turned off, and you have your T program switched on, the hearing aid will not sound good, and you will hear more poorly than without the hearing aid!

 

Your audiologist may also provide you with a program referred to as an “MT” program, where the “M” refers to microphone (i.e. the microphone in the hearing aid) and the “T” again refers to the telecoil.  This is a program that would give you some of the benefit of the hearing aid’s default functioning, as well as some of the benefit of the hearing loop.  An MT program could allow you, for example, to enjoy a performance and then also hear the person next to you or hear sounds around you while talking to a bank teller.  Whereas a “T only” program can be more helpful for difficulty with a lot of background noise—but again, you won’t hear yourself, others, or have much awareness of sounds around you.  This would particularly be the case if you’re using a hearing aid with a more “closed” fitting, such as with an ear mould.  Some people will have both a T and an MT program available to choose from, which they can then decide when to use, and manually select it based on their preferences.



Telephone Use


Having a telecoil in your hearing aids can also be beneficial for telephone use.  The “tele” in telecoil refers to telephone.  When using a compatible telephone, the magnetic fields from your phone could connect to your hearing aid’s telecoil, allowing you to hear phone calls better and more clearly.  You may even be able to have an automatic program activated for telephone use, where your hearing aids would automatically switch into a special “Phone T” program once you place the phone’s receiver to your ear.

 

Some Final Thoughts

 

Hearing loops can be incredibly beneficial to hearing aid users.  In the UK, we are lucky to find them in a very wide variety of settings.  Yet, they are surprisingly underutilised.  Many audiology patients are even unaware of their existence or may not even know that their hearing aids are compatible with them.  If you are unsure if you will ever need to make use of a loop, I still recommend considering getting a hearing aid that has a telecoil (and therefore is hearing loop compatible), even if it means that the hearing aid will be a bit larger than what you were originally hoping for.  Telecoils can’t typically be retrofitted into a hearing aid—meaning that if you later realise you could benefit from one, it will require the purchase of an entirely new hearing aid.  Also, having a telecoil built into your hearing aid will rarely change the price of it—so it’s really a very worthwhile feature to ensure you are fitted with.


If you'd like to learn more about the kind of hearing care we provide for our patients at Finchley Hearing, please explore our website and feel free to get in touch with any questions.


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