Everything you ever need to know about hearing aids!

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Hearing AidChoosing a hearing aid is an important exercise for good health and relationships, but it can also feel overwhelming. While there are many types of hearing aids available, it can be difficult to know which device is best for your needs. There is a wide range of important information to consider, including getting an initial checkup to diagnose hearing loss, planning for the expense of a new hearing aid, getting comfortable with the new hearing aid, and finally going in for follow-up appointments. Those who experience hearing loss and choose to invest in a hearing aid experience enhanced communication through being able to listen and talk with family and friends and to function well in social situations.

The top hearing aid brands on today’s market are Starkey, Phonak, Oticon, Widex, Siemens and ReSound. When shopping for a hearing aid, make sure you get the hearing aid that best suits your needs based on hearing loss, user dexterity, aesthetics, affordability, lifestyle and how your ear is shaped. Hearing aids can be essentially be placed into three categories, custom in-the-ear models (ITE), behind-the-ear (BTE), and receiver in the ear (RITE). Read more below answering the question on the different types of hearing aids for more information.

How much will a hearing aid cost?

k2-_53d49071-0568-4d22-aa90-190e8e51db1c.v2The cost of a hearing aid can vary widely based on the specific kind purchased. Talk with your doctor or audiologist regarding any budget restraints versus the hearing aids available for your needs, along with available warranties and trial periods. (Be prepared, it can be expensive.) Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers diagnostic hearing and balance exams if your doctor or other health care provider orders these tests to see if you need medical treatment. Medicare doesn’t cover routine hearing exams, hearing aids, or exams for fitting hearing aids.

To find out how much your specific test, item, or service will cost, talk to your doctor or other health care provider. The specific amount you’ll owe may depend on several things, like other insurance you may have, how much your doctor charges, whether your doctor accepts assignment, the type of facility, and the location where you get your test, item, or service.

Your doctor or other health care provider may recommend you get services more often than Medicare covers. Or, they may recommend services that Medicare doesn’t cover. If this happens, you may have to pay some or all of the costs. It’s important to ask questions so you understand why your doctor is recommending certain services and whether Medicare will pay for them.

Want to do it yourself? Retailers like Walmart and drugstores like Walgreens and CVS sell hearing aids and Walmart offers some guidance on selecting the correct one for your needs.

How soon will I be comfortable with my hearing aid?

Adjusting to a hearing aid can take time. Manage your expectations through honest, open discussions with your doctor or audiologist about any adjustment concerns with your new hearing aid.

How do I know if I need a hearing aid?

Temporary hearing loss can occur from a variety of treatable causes, including an infection, allergies, or a tumor. Make an appointment with your regular doctor to ask about any hearing loss you may experience, and inquire if visiting an audiologist is right for you.

What types of hearing aids are available?

An audiologist helps people find hearing aids that fit their needs. After taking an impression of your ear canal, an audiologist can walk you through the best hearing aid options, however, the common hearing aid styles are: deep canal which is created to fit deep within the ear canal and complete invisible, however, this is not for someone with narrow ear canals or dexterity problems. The second smallest is the completely in the canal and is suitable for people with narrow ear canals and mild to moderately severe hearing loss. In the canal is for mild to moderately severe hearing losses and is a small one piece case that fits inside the ear canal. The receiver in hear is the smallest external hearing aid and has a receiver that is located in the end of the tube inside your ear. The open ear hearing aid is a small case that sits behind the ear while the ear canal is open. The behind the ear hearing aid is for mild to severe hearing loss and is fully featured hearing aids that sits behind the ear and offers more powerful solutions then the smaller hearing aids.

Will my hearing aid be visible to other people?

Depending on the type of hearing aid you buy, other people may or may not be able to see the device in your ear. Some hearing aids are so small that they are virtually undetectable to anyone who isn’t looking very carefully, while other hearing aids are more visible. If having a discreet hearing aid is important to you, ask to see models that are smaller and fit inside the ear where they are less likely to be seen by others.

How do I care for my hearing aid?

Cleaning a hearing aid is relatively simple when done consistently. Many hearing aids come with cleaning tools designed to remove wax and keep the hearing aid in good shape. Talk with your doctor or audiologist about the best way to clean your specific hearing aid.

How often do I need to wear my hearing aid?

Some people need to wear their hearing aid almost all of the time, while others may only need to wear a hearing aid in certain situations. Ask your doctor or audiologist how often you should wear your hearing aid, and whether or not you can remove the hearing aid throughout the day. Remember to always follow your doctors instructions, and if you are required to wear a hearing aid while driving, never drive without wearing yours.

Which hearing aids are within my price range or budget?

Hearing aids can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the model. Discuss your budget with your doctor or audiologist and ask to see hearing aids that fall within that price range. If payment plans are available, you may be able to choose a more expensive hearing aid and spread payments out over a few months, so also ask whether you might qualify for a payment plan.

Checklist for hearing aids

  • Get a check up. Go to a doctor, preferably an ear, nose, and throat physician (also known as an otolaryngologist) to get a medical exam. The medical exam will rule out any medical reason for your hearing loss which would require medical or surgical treatment. You will receive documentation of your medical exam and a statement that says you are a candidate for hearing aids. Your doctor can also give you a referral to an audiologist or a hearing aid dispenser if your health plan requires a doctor’s referral for services.
    Note: You have the option to sign a waiver saying you do not want a medical exam to rule out any medical reason for your hearing loss. However, FDA believes that it is in your best health interest to have the medical exam by a licensed physician before buying hearing aids.
  • Consider going to an audiologist. An audiologist will perform an audiological exam to determine the type and amount of your hearing loss, and will counsel you as to your non-medical options to improve your hearing loss.
  • Buy your hearing aid from a licensed hearing healthcare professional. This will typically be an audiologist, a hearing aid dispenser, or an ear, nose, and throat physician . Provide your documentation that you received from your doctor that states you are a hearing aid candidate. Ask your hearing healthcare professional to help you determine what features you will need.
  • Be careful when selecting your hearing aid. Select one that is convenient and easy for you to use. Buy hearing aids with features that meet your needs in daily listening activities.
  • Be sure you know how to care for your hearing aid. Ask your hearing healthcare professional to show you how to clean it and replace the batteries. Ask if you can have a copy of the written instructions.
  • Ask about a trial/adjustment period. Most manufacturers provide a trial/adjustment period during which your hearing aids can be returned for a refund. A trial/adjustment period will allow you to test out your hearing aids to see if they work well for you.
  • Check out the warranty. Like any other product you purchase, be aware of what parts or services are covered by the warranty.

Hearing Aids and Personal Sound Amplifiers: Know the Difference

You’ve likely seen them advertised on television—small electronic sound amplifiers that allow users to enjoy nighttime TV without disturbing sleepers, or to hear their toddlers from many yards away.

While these personal sound amplifiers may help people hear things that are at low volume or at a distance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants to ensure that consumers don’t mistake them—or use them as substitutes—for approved hearing aids.

“Hearing aids and personal sound amplification products (PSAPS) can both improve our ability to hear sound,” says Eric Mann, M.D., Ph.D, deputy director of FDA’s Division of Ophthalmic, Neurological, And Ear, Nose, and Throat Devices. “They are both wearable, and some of their technology and function is similar.”

Mann notes, however, that the products are different in that only hearing aids are intended to make up for impaired hearing.

He says consumers should buy a personal sound amplifier only after ruling out hearing loss as a reason for getting one. “If you suspect hearing loss, get your hearing evaluated by a health care professional,” he adds.

Choosing a PSAP as a substitute for a hearing aid can lead to more damage to your hearing, says Mann. “It can cause a delay in diagnosis of a potentially treatable condition. And that delay can allow the condition to get worse and lead to other complications,” he says.

Treatments for impaired hearing can be as simple as removal of a wax plug in the doctor’s office or, in rare cases, as serious as a major surgery to remove a tumor or growth in the middle or inner ear, says Mann.

How They Differ

In March 2009, FDA issued guidance describing how hearing aids and personal sound amplifying devices differ.

The recently issued guidance defines a hearing aid as a sound-amplifying device intended to compensate for impaired hearing.

PSAPs are not intended to make up for impaired hearing. Instead, they are intended for non-hearing-impaired consumers to amplify sounds in the environment for a number of reasons, such as for recreational activities.

The difference between PSAPS and hearing aids are among the topics covered in a new Web page devoted to hearing aids that FDA launched today.

Signs of Loss of Hearing

Mann says that consumers who suspect they suffer from hearing loss should obtain a thorough medical evaluation, preferably by an ear specialist, to identify any medically or surgically treatable causes of hearing loss. Persons exhibiting symptoms of hearing loss should see a doctor or hearing health care professional to have their hearing tested.

You may have hearing loss if

• people say you are shouting when you talk to them

• you need the TV or radio turned up louder than other people do

• you often ask people to repeat themselves because you can’t hear or understand them, especially in groups or when there is background noise

• you can hear better out of one ear than the other

• you have to strain to hear

• you can’t hear a dripping faucet or a high note of a violin

Other Products and Devices to Improve Hearing

Assistive Listening Devices

Assistive listening devices (ALDs) or assistive listening systems include a large variety of devices designed to help you hear sounds in everyday activities. ALDs are available in some public places such as auditoriums, movie theaters, houses of worship, and meeting rooms. They may be used by both normal hearing and hearing impaired people to improve listening in these settings.

ALDs can be used to overcome any negative effects of distance, poor room acoustics, and background noise. To achieve this purpose, many ALDs consist of a microphone near the source of the sound and a receiver near the listener. The listener can usually adjust the volume of the receiver as needed. Careful microphone placement allows the level of the speaker’s voice to stay constant regardless of the distance between the speaker and the audience. The speaker’s voice is also heard clearly over room noises such as chairs moving, fan motors running, and people talking.

Unlike hearing aids, ALDs do not require medical clearance or a waiver before purchase. ALDs can be used with or without hearing aids.

Cochlear Implants

A cochlear implant is an implanted electronic device that can produce useful hearing sensation by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear. Cochlear implants currently consist of 2 main components:

  • external component, comprised of an externally worn microphone, sound processor and transmitter system,
  • internal component, comprised of an implanted receiver and electrode system, which contains the electronic circuits that receive signals from the external system and send electrical signals to the inner ear.

Cochlear implants are different from hearing aids in some aspects:

Hearing Aids Cochlear Implants
Hearing aids are indicated for individuals with all degrees of hearing loss (from mild to profound). Cochlear implants are indicated only for individuals with severe-profound hearing loss.
Most hearing aids are not implanted (although some bone-conduction hearing aids have an implanted component). Cochlear implants are composed of both internal (implanted) and external components. A surgical procedure is needed to place the internal components.
In hearing aids, sound is amplified and conveyed through both the outer and middle ear and finally to the sensory receptor cells (hair cells) in the inner ear. The hair cells convert the sound energy into neural signals that are picked up by the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants bypass the outer and middle ears, and the damaged hair cells and replace their functions by converting sound energy into electrical energy that directly stimulates the auditory nerve.

(See the animation on how sound is amplified and processed.)

Implantable Middle Ear Hearing Devices

Implantable Middle Ear Hearing Devices (IMEHD) help increase the transmission of sound to the inner ear. IMEHDs are small implantable devices that are typically attached to one of the tiny bones in the middle ear. When they receive sound waves, IMEHDs vibrate and directly move the middle ear bones. This creates sound vibrations in the inner ear, which helps you to detect the sound. This device is generally used for people with sensorineural hearing loss.

Bone-anchored Hearing Aids

A bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA), like a cochlear implant, has both implanted and external components. The implanted component is a small post that is surgically attached to the skull bone behind your ear. The external component is a speech processor which converts sound into vibrations; it connects to the implanted post and transmits sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through the skull, bypassing the middle ear. BAHAs are for people with middle ear problems (usually a mixed hearing loss) or who have no hearing in one ear.

Personal Sound Amplification Products

Personal Sound Amplification Products (PSAPs), or sound amplifiers, increase environmental sounds for non-hearing impaired consumers. Examples of situations when these products would be used include hunting (listening for prey), bird watching, listening to a lecture with a distant speaker, and listening to soft sounds that would be difficult for normal hearing individuals to hear (e.g., distant conversations, performances). PSAPs are not intended to amplify speech or environmental sound for individuals with impaired hearing or to compensate for hearing impairment.

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