Mobile Phones and Hearing Aids
People with hearing aids or cochlear implants may experience a loud interfering noise when using a digital mobile phone or when one is used nearby.
Causes of interference
The interference is caused by the radio signals (RF) generated by the digital mobile phone. It can be a buzzing sound that makes speech hard to understand. In severe cases, it can make the phone unusable.
Those with a T-switch (telecoil) in their hearing aid may experience an additional form of interference referred to as "baseband, magnetic interference". This originates from the cell phones electronics (e.g., backlighting, display, keypad, battery and circuit board). Baseband magnetic interference can add to any RF-interference experienced by the hearing aid user.
How much you are affected by interference from a mobile phone depends on:
- The type of mobile phone - GSM (Global System for Mobiles) or CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access)
- Your hearing devices immunity to RF and baseband interferenc
- The distance between the hearing device and the mobile phone
- Your personal tolerance to noise.
Difference between GSM and CDMA phones
The degree of interference to hearing devices is likely to be greater when a digital GSM mobile phone is used. CDMA mobile phone technology is more suitable for use with most hearing aids or other hearing devices. Most hearing aid wearers who can use a standard telephone should be able to use a CDMA phone.
However, Telecom has now closed down its roaming and internet/email access services using the CDMA network. Customers previously using the service should have been contacted with upgrade and switching recommendations to ensure their mobile service is transitioned to the XT network smoothly. Telecom remains committed to supporting the CDMA network for calling and text services until mid 2012.
Vodafone is still largely a digital GSM network.
We recommend that you contact Telecom directly to discuss how your own service may be affected by the CDMA network closure.
Commonly asked questions
Are there situations where interference is better or worse?
Interference is worse where mobile reception is poor. Make sure there is good coverage from the network you choose in the area where you will use your mobile phone the most.
Does handset design make a difference?
The design of the handset may make a difference. Look for a style that maximises the distance between phones antenna and your hearing aid.
With a "flip up" or "clam shell" style of mobile, the section where you listen (the speaker) flips up from the main body of the phone. This generally increases the distance between the hearing aid and the antenna and other components that may potentially cause interference.
For telecoil users, these sorts of phones also provide physical distance between the cell phone electronics (another potential source of interference) and the hearing aid.
The greater the distance between the hearing aid and these electronics, the less potential there is for interference experienced by the hearing aid wearer.
Does the type of hearing aid affect the level of interference?
Those people with in-the-ear (ITE) or completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids generally experience less interference than those with behind-the-ear (BTE) instruments. And digital hearing aids are generally more immune to interference than older, analogue hearing aids.
Some new hearing aids have significantly higher levels of immunity and so cause less interference. If you are having a hearing device fitted and know you want to use a mobile phone, discuss your requirements with your audiologist.
How can I reduce interference?
The further the mobile phone is from the hearing aid, the less the interference. If you find interference is a problem with an existing phone try using it with the hands-free kit that comes with most mobile phones. This consists of an ear piece (either in the ear, or behind the ear) and a microphone, which allows you to wear you mobile on your belt or carry it in a bag - well away from your hearing device.
Special headsets and neck loops have also been developed to work the T-switch in hearing aids and can be used with some mobiles and regular phones.
Things to consider when buying a mobile phone
What is the reception like where you plan to use your phone? Interference will be worse where reception is poor.
Ask people who use mobile phones and have hearing aids about their experience and what they recommend.
Shop around for a mobile phone provider who can advise you on the most suitable mobile and accessories. Try and find an outlet which allows you to test the phone before purchase. It may be better to visit a shop which specialises in mobile phones than a store where phones are just part of a much larger product range.
If you can test the phone before purchase make sure the batteries are fully charged (interference may not occur if the battery output is low) and try and test it where there is poor reception e.g. in the middle of a building.
Advise the shop assistant that you have a hearing aid. Make sure that you can return the phone and receive a full refund if you experience interference, or if it is incompatible with accessories you wish to use. (You will need to pay for any calls you made while using the phone).
When selecting a phone, look for a style that maximises the distance between the phones antenna and your hearing aid. "Flip up" style phones generally have their antenna in the base section.
Make sure any phone you buy is compatible with other accessories you may wish to use such as a hands free kit, or specialised headsets.
Other things to consider when purchasing a mobile phone
- Is it easy to use?
- Are the buttons easy for you to press?
- Can you use any other controls easily?
- Can you hold the mobile phone comfortably?
- Is the equipment a suitable weight - not too light or too heavy?
- Is the display screen big enough for you to read what is on it?
- Check for volume level and speech clarity as well as interference.
What pricing option is suitable for you?
Both Telecom and Vodafone offer a variety of pricing plans to suit the differing communication needs of their customers. Decide when and how you are most likely to use your mobile and choose an option that suits your needs best.