SIGNS AND CONSEQUENCES OF HEARING LOSS

Hearing loss can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate because of age, gender, demographic background or ethnicity. In addition to the noticeable signs of hearing loss, including asking for repetition or saying “What?” there are some warning signs that are not as obvious.  One of the most challenging aspects of hearing loss is the gradual progression in which it appears for some patients. Research shows it takes more than seven years from the time a patient notices they have to....

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AUDIOLOGIST VS. HEARING INSTRUMENT SPECIALISTS

With the addition of hearing aids to chain stores, there are more places than ever to purchase such devices. Making it even more complicated, there are also different levels of hearing health care professionals capable of working with individuals who have hearing loss, including audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. Understanding the key differences between these professionals will allow patients to make more educated decisions regarding their hearing health.

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HEARING AIDS VS. OVER-THE-COUNTER DEVICES

One of the most common questions I get after recommending hearing aid technology to a patient is: Why are they so expensive? This question not only stems from pricing advertised by local hearing healthcare providers, but also over-the-counter (OTC) devices that can be purchased for a fraction of the cost.

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HEARING AIDS VS. OVER-THE-COUNTER DEVICES

One of the most common questions I get after recommending hearing aid technology to a patient is: Why are they so expensive? This question not only stems from pricing advertised by local hearing healthcare providers, but also over-the-counter (OTC) devices that can be purchased for a fraction of the cost.


Many patients will look at the dollar amount and focus on it. There is so much more to take into consideration when investing in the appropriate technology. The true value of amplification is overlooked when someone focuses on the bottom line only. Let’s talk about some of the major differences between hearing aids and OTC devices that may shed some light onto this cost discrepancy.


CHEAP HEARING AIDS ARE … CHEAP

Did you know OTC hearing aids are usually not true hearing aids? Soon legislation will be in effect to help consumers understand what they are purchasing, but because no regulations are being enforced at this time, consumers are often being very misled.


A hearing aid is a device programmed specifically to a hearing- loss prescription. Each frequency within the hearing aid is adjusted independently to make sure the patient is getting the volume they need when they need it. How does this differ from OTC options?   

These are essentially amplifiers. All frequencies are being either turned up or down, with no individuality. This can cause patients to feel low- frequency sounds are too loud or high-frequency sounds are too soft. Not to mention there is danger some sounds can cause even more hearing loss because the settings are at unsafe levels.


WHAT ABOUT BACKGROUND NOISE?

I am going to be the bearer of some bad news here, but it’s the honest truth: There is absolutely no way to completely get rid of background noise. I hear people promise this to patients all the time and it breaks my heart and infuriates me both at the same time. The reason we cannot get rid of background noise is because the devices are turned on. In order for the device to understand what sounds it needs to make louder, the microphones have to be working. This means noise is going to slip into the microphones as well. Think about your ears and brain. They are always on, but when the sound is sent to your brain, it decides what to focus on and what to ignore. The same is true for hearing aids.


OTC devices do not have the appropriate technology within them to separate speech sounds from noise. Because of this, there is no way for the devices to

effectively lessen the amount of noise being heard. Hearing aids, because of their advanced technology, have the ability to differentiate background noise from the intended speech signal. The microphones within the hearing aids sample the environment every few milliseconds, making changes based on what is heard. When background noise is recognized, specific algorithms go into effect to help lessen the amount of background noise while increasing the intentional speech signal, thus creating an improved signal-to-noise ratio. This has significantly helped patients in more complex listening environments.


PROGRAMMING CAPABILITIES

What happens when the OTC device breaks? Can the buyer send it in for repair? And where do they go for help with their questions? Local providers are unable to answer questions regarding such devices because we have no programming capabilities. It’s not because we don’t want to; it’s because the devices are not capable of being programmed. Purchasing hearing aids from a hearing healthcare provider affords a completely different experience. Typically hearing aids come with a two-to three-year warranty for repairs. If there are questions, that provider should be able to answer them via phone or email. Like most providers I know, I welcome questions. We want our patients to understand everything there is to know about the hearing aids they are wearing!


PROFESSIONAL ADVICE

A local audiologist is the best place to start. On top of the technological differences, part of the reason for investing more in hearing aids is because of the service you will receive. When fitting a patient with hearing aids, providers take time to ensure the patient understands the hearing aid technology, how the device works, all the parts and pieces, how to insert and remove it, how to change batteries ... the list goes on – and that is just at the first appointment.


Hearing aid verification is also completed to ensure the hearing aids are actually doing what they are supposed to do. This allows the audiologist to confirm the patient is getting as much benefit as possible. Adjusting to the hearing aids may take a few appointments, but those adjustments are done with ease because of this advanced technology. Fine tuning ultimately allows providers to give patients the listening experience they want and deserve.


AN AUDIOLOGIST CAN HELP

Finding the right professional is a personal decision. No matter who you chose, be confident in that choice. Make sure the hearing healthcare professional is willing to take the time to answer your questions and guide you through the process of better hearing. A trusted and valued relationship with your educated professional will make all the difference.

DR TIFFANY BREWER

Dr. Tiffany Brewer completed her Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine and her undergraduate degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is licensed by the state of Kentucky as an Audiologist and Hearing Instrument Specialist.

more articles by Dr Tiffany Brewer