It can be difficult to make decisions about your
hearing health if you are not properly informed.
Let’s get back to basics and look for possible
answers to this valid question!
“My son bought me a personal amplifier so he could turn down the TV at home. It made things sound loud and uncomfortable, but I was still not able to understand the news. I even got a blister inside my ear from the device. Finally, I got a hearing test and the Audiologist found a severe hearing loss in both ears. I was skeptical when she recommended hearing aids because they cost a significant amount of money. I was allowed to try out a set of hearing aids at no charge for one week. The difference was life-changing. I now have my own set of hearing aids and the Audiologist has made sure I can hear properly, that all my listening needs are being met and that they are comfortable. I wear my hearing aids every day. The amplifier is in the trash where it belongs. ”
–Mary, age 86
What is a hearing aid?
- “Hearing aids” are FDA-regulated medical devices designed to amplify speech and environmental sounds for persons with a medically documented hearing loss. They are programmed and fine-tuned by specialists to match your hearing loss and listening needs. Hearing aids “know” the difference between background noise, speech and even music, making it easier to live a lifestyle where communicating with others and enjoying sounds is less effortful. Hearing aids can also be linked to other devices such as remote microphones (for understanding speech in heavy noise), TV, PC, smartphones and tablets. Hearing aids can go inside the ear or behind the ear and are available in many different styles and colors.
- Most important to note is that hearing aids are available with different levels of technology, making them less or more expensive. The technology is housed inside the hearing aid.
- The “entry level” models have fewer processing channels, are less automatic, and have fewer features, but they still do a decent job if your listening needs are not too variable.
- The “premium level” models have many processing channels, are fully automatic and have multiple features (e.g. different program settings for different listening situations).
- “Mid-level” models fall somewhere in between these two.
- An Audiologist is the most qualified professional to help you decide which level is best for you. Audiologists will ask you questions and perform testing to determine the best type of hearing aid for your unique needs. This is because everybody experiences their hearing loss differently, and research shows that targeted intervention is the most successful.
What is NOT a hearing aid?
- You have probably seen devices that look very similar to hearing aids being advertised in the newspaper, certain magazines or catalogs. Mostly these are NOT hearing aids, but devices called “personal amplifiers”. These are not regulated by the FDA and are not suitable for people with hearing loss. Personal amplifiers are ear-worn devices that look very similar to hearing aids, but they can only apply a flat volume increase across the pitch range and are not programmable. The vast majority of people with hearing loss need different amounts of volume at different pitches, and in some cases a personal amplifier could make hearing loss worse.
- Personal amplifiers do not separate out speech from background noise. For people with hearing loss, this separation is critical.
- Anyone can make, sell and dispense a personal amplifier, and some companies take deliberate and unethical liberties to trick consumers into thinking they are hearing aids. An audiologist is the best professional to help you decide if you need a personal amplifier or a hearing aid.
- Buying a personal amplifier can pose a safety risk. You will likely experience terrible hearing at a higher volume, with no professional guidance for your hearing loss.
What about internet hearing aids?
- FDA-approved hearing aids are available on the internet. You send in the results of your hearing test and the devices are programmed and mailed to you. Unfortunately, one size does NOT fit all when it comes to hearing loss. Two people with very similar audiograms can have very different experiences with their hearing handicap. Also, because hearing loss can sometimes be a symptom of a wider health issue, addressing it over the Internet means that you might miss a condition that needs additional treatment (e.g. an ear infection, autoimmune disease or tumor). Furthermore, you won’t be able to consult anyone about fine tuning, physical fit problems or about learning to use and adjust to amplified sound.
- Buying a hearing aid over the internet can pose safety risks and may also be a disappointing false economy. Most audiologists cannot program these hearing aids, or if they can, they will charge you a substantial fee for their expertise, time and professional services.
What about buying cheaper hearing aids from the Big Box store?
- Well known retail giants now carry hearing aids. They purchase them from a well-known manufacturer and rebrand them. They offer a limited selection at a low price. What gets sacrificed for the bottom line? Probably service. Big box retailers didn’t get into dispensing hearing aids because they are passionate about hearing health or person-centered care. In an environment designed solely for high volume sales, it is unlikely that the service you get from the “hearing center” in the corner of the warehouse will be as good as what you’ll get from an Audiologist who specializes in treating and managing hearing loss across the lifespan.
So, I should probably get my hearing aids from an Audiologist?
- Audiologists are highly-trained, licensed professionals. An Audiologist is a hearing loss expert with a science-based master’s or doctoral level degree. Audiologists must complete thousands of clinical hours in a variety of settings (e.g. hospitals, schools, clinics and private practices) before becoming licensed.
- Audiologists are experts in diagnosing and treating hearing loss appropriately.
- Audiologists are also experts in counseling people with hearing loss.
- Audiologists are passionate about helping people with hearing loss. It’s all they do, all day, every day.
- Audiologists are required to stay up-to-date with the current research and technology, and must complete “continuing education” annually to keep their credentials.
- Audiologists carry hearing aids from more than one manufacturer, offer a wide range of technology levels, and have a good idea about which devices will be best for you.
- Audiologists do not cut corners when fitting and fine tuning your hearing aids. They will be happy to see you back in the office if you are having problems, and will offer solutions and work with you until you are satisfied.
- Audiologists will help you set goals for your hearing health, and will counsel you to manage your expectations and improve your quality of life. They enjoy giving you their time and attention, and want only the best for you and your loved ones as you navigate your personal hearing loss journey.
- Audiologists are friendly, knowledgeable scientists with a flair for communication and empathy.
- Audiologists offer ongoing, personalized, evidence-based hearing health care.
We may be biased, but we highly recommend that you visit our Audiology practice for your hearing aids. If the price seems high, take the cost of the hearing aids and divide it by 1826 (that’s the number of days in five years, which is about the life of a hearing aid). The number you get is the daily cost of better hearing, better interaction with loved ones, better brain health, and better quality of life. And, it includes the expertise from a specialist who wants the best for you. You’re worth it!