You might notice it. Maybe not. Hearing loss is common. According to recent report from the Better Hearing Institute, 34.25 million Americans experience some degree of hearing loss according, but only 25% of us take the time to treat our hearing loss by purchasing a pair of hearing aids.
Purchasing hearing aids can be an overwhelming experience. Consumers are bombarded with marketing and advertisements; some legit and some not. And because price is the most cited reason as to why consumers with hearing loss do not purchase hearing aids, many advertisements focus on cheap pricing and deals that are only available for 2 days!
There is also a growing trend in the sale of Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs) which are intended to amplify environmental sounds, not compensate for hearing loss. However, these products are often purchased by mistake to treat hearing loss due to misleading advertisements and cheap pricing.
So because the hearing aid process has become confusing, the FDA published a consumers' guide for those just starting on their journey to better hearing. In it, experts offer advice on choosing the right type of hearing aid to meet specific kinds of hearing loss, as well as clarify the difference between actual hearing aids versus PSAPs that are not intended for persons with hearing loss.
Where to Start?
It may seem like a simple question but most of us don't have the answer.
You start by recognizing you have a hearing problem. Many are in denial and try to adapt. The TV volume is notched up. You position yourself close to the stage during a business seminar to better hear the speaker. You sit directly across the table from your dinner partner in a crowded restaurant to more easily pick up visual cues – lip movements – that provide the brain with additional information to interpret and process the words spoken by the talker three feet across the table.
You may think your compensation strategies are helping; however, numerous studies have shown the issues encountered when hearing loss goes untreated: negative impact on ability to communicate with others, lowered workplace productivity, problems with personal relationships, a feeling of isolation and a lot of wasted time and money.
So back to the most important question, "Where to Start?"
See a Hearing Professional.
If you suspect hearing loss, see a hearing professional, such as an audiologist, who can perform a hearing evaluation to determine (1) the type of hearing loss you experience and (2) the extent of your hearing loss. You may experience hearing loss across the entire sound spectrum – from high notes to low – or, you may have hearing loss at specific frequencies. You hear the low notes but you have trouble hearing sounds in higher frequency ranges – like the sound of a child's voice.
With a hearing evaluation, the hearing professional can offer suggestions that best suit your type of hearing loss and your personal preferences. If there are any medical concerns the hearing professional will refer you to an Otolaryngologist (ENT) to determine if there are any medical contraindications to you being fit with hearing aids.
Purchasing Hearing Aids.
Selecting the most appropriate hearing aids and receiving satisfaction from hearing aids requires working closely with a hearing professional (audiologists or hearing aid practitioners) before, during and after the purchase. Sure today's digital hearing aids are sophisticated and adapt automatically for the user; however, they can't restore normal hearing but if fit properly by a hearing professional, hearing aids can make a major difference in your life.
Choose a good provider to purchase hearing aids from – one recommended by your family physician or a friend who's been through the testing and fitting process. Work with that professional during the testing and fitting phase, and be prepared to visit this hearing professional after your purchase for minor tweaking.
At some point after the initial fitting your hearing professional should perform further verification tests (subjective and objective) to ensure the hearing aids are fit and amplifying appropriately for you hearing loss. These verification tests serve as a cross-reference to the programming done to the hearing aids and also serve as a counseling tool to demonstrate to you how your hearing aids are amplifying once inserted in your ears.
Expect a period of transition. It takes a while for the brain to adapt to this new sound source and the sound information it delivers. It won't sound like natural hearing, but as the brain (and you) adjusts to new levels of hearing, your level of satisfaction increases. The sounds you hear become "normal" as your brain gets used to listening to amplified sound.
The bottom line to remember is you should continue to return to your hearing aid professional until you receive benefit and satisfaction. Hearing loss impacts you in more ways that you realize and hearing aids have the potential to have a tremendous positive impact on your life.
Different Types of Hearing Aids – Beware of Sound Amplifiers
Quality hearing aids come in different shapes and configurations to suit both hearing needs and lifestyle considerations. Hearing aids differ in regards to design, technology options and special features.
Today's digital hearing aids come loaded with features to meet various needs and wants of the user. Lifestyle examples that should be discussed and considered with your hearing professional before purchasing hearing aids include outdoor activities, sports you enjoy, work demands (such as cell phone use), music lover, singer, etc.
In regards to size/style, hearing aids come in a full range:
Completely-in-the-canal (CIC) and in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aids are inserted into the ear canal – the tube that runs from the outer ear to the ear drum. They are the smallest custom made hearing aids available and offer a high cosmetic appeal to those seeking discretion. Their small size can make them more difficult to handle and additional features such as volume controls and directional microphones are often not available.
In-the-ear (ITE) or low-profile hearing aids are larger custom made hearing aids which sit within the outer bowl of the ear. Because of their larger size, these hearing aids typically offer the maximum number of additional features and are easier to handle for persons with dexterity issues.
Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids sit behind the outer ear, with tubing that routes sound down into the ear canal. BTEs come in a variety of sizes, colors and styles. Currently there are three main groups of BTE hearing aid:
- Mini BTE with slim tube: these are designed to hide behind the out ear and are connected to an ulter thin tube which is connected to a tip which discretely routes sound in the ear canal. These are often referred to as "open fit" BTEs because they allow the ear canal to reamin open and unoccluded. The result is a natural, open feeling as air and sound can still enter naturally.
- Receiver-in-the-ear (RITE) hearing aids are also known as receiver-the-canal (RIC) models and are also mini BTEs that sit discretely behind the outer ear; however, these hearing aids have the speaker of the hearing aid incorporated in the ear tip instead of the main body of the hearing aid. This model looks similar to the mini BTE.
- BTE with earmold – BTEs with custom fit earmolds fit the widest range of hearing loss types from mild to profound. In general they are longer in shape and house more features and controls than custom model and smaller BTE models. Many of today's BTEs are sleek in design and are available in a wide range of colors that can be matched to a person's hair color, skin tone or personality.
For more information on different hearing aids styles, visit Health Hearing's Quick Guide to Hearing Aids: Hearing Aid Styles.
Most consumers may think they know what a hearing aid looks like; however, the FDA warns against the use of the heavily-advertised sound amplifiers (PSAPs) that "let you enjoy watching TV without waking your spouse." These sound amplifiers often look very similar to hearing aids and should be used with caution as they can actually do more harm than good. Why?
Personal amplifiers are not intended to compensate for hearing loss. They are sold pre-set, meaning a one-size fit all approach in regards to the sound. Sure there is a volume control; however, you have no idea if the amount of sound coming out is appropriate for your hearing loss. In fact, you may turn it too loud and cause damage.
The FDA's report warns against the use of these sound amplifiers and consumers should take this warning seriously. They are not intended for person with hearing loss. Oh, they may seem to be a good, cost-saving solution but, again, most of us are in denial about hearing loss and, frankly, we don't know what's good for us.
Hearing Aid Buying Tips
The FDA offers a number of recommendations to consider when purchasing hearing aids, the following are a few of the more important tips worth noting:
- Start with an initial check-up by a physician. An exam may find that hearing loss can be treated with medication or surgery – no hearing aid required.Have a hearing evaluation performed by a hearing professional who specializes in evaluation, non-medical treatment, and rehabilitation of hearing loss to identify the type and amount of your hearing loss, to determine the need for medical/surgical treatment and/or referral to a licensed physician, and to provide rehabilitation of the hearing loss.
- Purchase a pair of hearing aids from a professional, typically an audiologist, physician or a licensed hearing aid dispenser.
- Ensure you understand the total cost of the hearing aids and what is all included with the cost (warranty, batteries, cleanings, follow-up tests, etsc).
- Ask about a trial period. Most professionals recognize the importance of a try-before-you-buy transitional phase. Most manufactures allow for a trial/period of adjustment before hearing aids have to be returned and this is a state law in many states.Ask how long the warranty is. If you're spending a few thousand dollars on a pair of hearing computers, you want protection. You want to walk out of the store knowing that, if something breaks, you're covered by a guarantee from the hearing aid manufacturer and from the hearing professional with whom you're working. It is even wise to ask about it being extended longer.Be sure to understand what is and what isn't covered in your warranty. Also inquire about loaner hearing aids in the event your hearing aids have to be sent in for repair.
- Don't confuse hearing aids with personal amplifiers you see on TV. They may be cheaper than a quality hearing aid but they are not intended for persons with hearing loss and can cause more harm than good.
- Become an educated consumer. There's a wealth of good information available about hearing loss and hearing loss solutions. Talk to family and friends who have been treated for hearing loss to ask for recommendations, etc.
Final note: hearing loss doesn't take care of itself. Once your hearing is gone, it's not coming back on its own. You have to take that all-important first step. You have to go pro-active to improve the quality of your hearing and to improve the quality of your life.
No one can do it for you. You have read this article up until now, so you are at the starting line. Next is to make your list of questions, preferences and concerns. Choose a hearing professional recommended by your family doctor, a trusted friend or family member. Or visit Healthy Hearing's Find a Professional section to find one near you. Remember, you'll be working with this hearing professional before, during and after your hearing aid purchase so find the right pro for the job.
Forget the sound amplifiers for only $24.95 plus shipping and handling. They do more harm than good.
Get smart. Get educated. Know what you need to know. Review your options and take an active role in selecting the right hearing aids for you.
Ready to get started? Time to go back to school to learn all about hearing loss and the solutions available to you.
Time to hear the world again.