Up until recently, the sophisticated electronics of cell phones often interacted poorly with the electronics of hearing aids, causing interference between the two devices that was perceived as static, squealing or whistling noises, or missing words. Technology enhancements along with new government regulations have mostly eliminated this issue. Nowadays cell phone – hearing aid compatibility is not the huge problem it used to be. The regulations mandated new labeling requirements and ratings that help you to easily find a cell phone that works well with your hearing aid.

To understand how this rating system works, you should first understand the two modes that hearing aids work in – M mode (for microphone) and T mode (for telecoil). When your hearing aid is in M mode, it uses the built-in microphone to pick up audible sounds from around you and amplify them to make them easier for you to hear. In T mode, the hearing aid uses telecoil technology instead. The hearing aid is able to pick up the electromagnetic signals from inside the phone directly. Roughly 60 percent of all cell phones sold in the US have a telecoil (T) mode.

The rating system for these two modes of hearing aid operation uses a scale that ranges from the lowest sensitivity (1) to the highest sensitivity (4). No mobile phone or cordless handset sold in the United States can be sold as hearing aid compatible (HAC) unless it has a rating of at least M3 or T3.

In addition, many hearing aids (and cochlear implants) have a similar M and T rating to measure their sensitivity and their resistance to radio frequency interference. If you know the M and T ratings for your hearing aid, to determine its compatibility with any mobile phone, just add the two sets of ratings together. A combined rating of 6 or more is considered excellent, a hearing aid/phone combination that would provide highly usable, interference-free performance. If the combined rating is 5, this combination is considered normal and suitable for most regular phone use. If the combined rating is 4, this is thought of as acceptable but not very usable if you make a lot of extended phone calls.

This combined rating system makes it easy to shop for a mobile phone online, because it easily allows you to determine how compatible it will be with your hearing aid. A better approach, of course, would be to go to a store that allows you to “try before you buy,” and actually use the phone you want while wearing your hearing aid, in both M and T modes.

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