How to Shop for Hearing Aids
If you find it more and more difficult to follow conversations, your spouse keeps telling you to turn down the TV and you often feel sounds around you are more muted than they used to be, it could be that your ears are to blame. According to audiologist Patrice Rifkind of Audiology Associates in Santa Clarita, Calif., one in three people have some level of hearing loss by age 65.
Your first step after noticing a decline or change in your hearing should be a visit to your doctor. Sometimes hearing loss has treatable medical causes, such as:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Meniere’s Disease
- Excessive earwax
If your physician determines your hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or auditory nerves due to aging or noise exposure, she will probably refer you to an audiologist. These licensed healthcare professionals deal with most issues related to hearing, including prescribing and fitting hearing aids.
What Are the Types of Hearing Aids?
According to Cynthia Modrosic, an audiologist in private practice in St. Louis, Mo., the decision as to which style of hearing aid is right for you begins with an audiological evaluation. This gives the audiologist necessary information on your specific hearing needs. Modrosic says the next step is evaluating your lifestyle and work needs and finally, a discussion of finances and insurance.
- Behind the Ear: These are relatively large, with the bulk of the hearing aid resting behind the ear, and a wire leading to a small earpiece or mold inside the ear. BTE hearing aids are powerful, versatile and easy to adjust, but they can be quite visible and susceptible to damage from perspiration or moisture.
- In the Ear: Suitable for mild to moderate hearing loss, ITE hearing aids fill the lower portion of the ear, thus are quite conspicuous. The larger size does make them easier to handle, however, and they are easy to use with a telephone.
- In the Canal: Smaller than ITE hearing aids, ITC aids are discreet, but the small size makes them more difficult for some users to handle.
- Completely in Canal: The smallest hearing aids, these fit deep in the ear canal, making them nearly invisible, but also making them hard for many users to handle and more prone to damage from wax and moisture. These are also not suited to those with profound hearing loss, according to Modrosic.
- Receiver in the Ear: The receiver is in the ear canal, connected by a thin wire to a small microphone resting behind the ear. This style eliminates the plugged-up feeling of other in-ear styles and allows natural sound to enter the ear. According to Rifkind, RITE hearing aids are now the most popular type.
Where Should You Get Your Hearing Aids?
There are several ways to purchase hearing aids.
- Veterans: If you are a veteran of the armed forces, you should visit your Veterans Affairs facility. Your benefits may cover the majority of hearing aid costs.
- Physician: Many ear-nose-throat doctors provide hearing aids. They can diagnose and treat ear conditions, customize hearing aids and provide follow-up treatment.
- Audiology Practice: Audiologists specialize in conditions affecting the ears and hearing. They can prescribe, customize and dispense hearing aids.
- Hearing Aid Dispensers: These practices are licensed to sell hearing aids, but do not diagnose or treat ear disorders.
- Online: You can buy hearing aids online for a discount, but will not receive customized service, or be evaluated for ear disorders.
What Features Should You Look For?
Hearing aid technology has come a long way since the device Grandpa was continually adjusting. Today’s hearing aids go beyond simply amplifying sound with a variety of features to make life easier.
- Directional Microphone: Sound continually bombards us from every direction, making it difficult to focus on what we want to hear. A directional microphone cuts down on peripheral sounds, helping you hear the person speaking to you or the movie you are watching.
- Wireless: Many hearing aids today have wireless connectivity, letting you route your cellphone signal directly to the hearing aid, as well as television or MP3 signals.
- Telecoil: This feature amplifies sound from your phone without feedback or background noise.
- Automatic Adjustments: These hearing aids automatically adjust the volume; reduce background and wind noise; and adjust the microphone direction.
What Else Should You Know?
Loss of hearing greatly lowers your quality of life. Though hearing aids will NOT restore your hearing to its natural level, they will go far in improving your day-to-day life and comfort.
- If you have hearing loss in both ears, as is common with aging, a hearing aid in each ear is your best option. If you have only one ear with hearing loss, you can get by with just one hearing aid.
- Don’t expect to immediately hear the way you used to. It takes time to adjust to wearing a hearing aid.
- Wear your hearing aids in a wide variety of environments to get used to the amplified sound.
- Go for your follow-up appointments. The audiologist can adjust the fit, change the settings or give you tips on wearing the hearing aid comfortably.
- Keep your hearing aids clean. Moisture and wax need to be removed daily for the best performance.
- Replace the batteries as needed, and keep extras on hand.
Hearing loss doesn’t mean you are doomed to a muffled, lonely world. If you are having trouble hearing others, make an appointment with your doctor and start the process of hearing aid evaluation. You don’t have to resign yourself to misunderstanding others. With properly prescribed and fitted hearing aids, the world will sound sweet again.