What are Hearing Aids?
Hearing aids are a small, electrical device used to improve hearing loss in individuals with either Conductive Hearing Loss or Sensorineural Hearing Loss. Over the last 20 years, hearing aid technology has become very advanced, with different types of hearing aids able to treat different forms of hearing loss. Nonetheless, the founding principal remains the same: the purpose of a hearing aid is to amplify sound so the individual can hear more clearly.
There are three different types of hearing loss. Conductive Hearing Loss occurs when there is damage to the outer ear, eardrum, or middle ear. Sensorineural Hearing Loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear or the nerve from the ear to the brain. Mixed Hearing Loss occurs when there is a combination of conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss. Audiologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in the field of hearing loss. If you suffer from hearing loss, it is important to contact an audiologist right away, as they will be able to evaluate and assess the type, level, and available treatment options.
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What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is a reality for many people. This can result from number of reasons, but the primary cause is growing older...that and too much Rock n' Roll. Around retirement age, about a third of us already notice some type of hearing loss. Tack on a few more years, and it becomes a full half of the geriatric population. Hearing loss is caused by the reduction of tiny hairs in our inner ear. These hairs, when healthy, pick up vibrations from sound waves, and pass them onto nerves that take them to the brain. But when the hairs die, they leave gaps in hearing.
Some other causes of hearing loss are wax build-up and also uniquely shaped ear canals. If you are suffering from any type of hearing loss, see a doctor immediately. Living with reduced hearing severely limits our connection with others and the world at large. Being in such a state for too long causes isolation that may easily result in depression. Memory skills and cognitive abilities often decline rapidly with seniors suffering from unchecked hearing loss.
Talk to a Doctor
- The most natural way to begin looking into hearing aids is by talking to a doctor. Whether she is a general practitioner, internist, or even an ear, nose, and throat doctor, she can get a general feel for your hearing health. The doctor will probably refer you to a specialist or hearing aid store.
- Audiologists are doctors who specialize in hearing loss and can perform a battery of tests to see exactly what parts of your hearing are missing. You will want to make sure the doctor you are seeing is covered by your insurance.
Hearing Aid Specialists
- Hearing Aid Specialists are adept and knowledgable about the inner workings of the ear and possible solutions for hearing loss, as Audiologists do. They just do not have the same level of edutaion. Different states have different requirements as to what constitutes a "Hearing Aid Specialist." You will find most of them in retail settings, and insurance is not usually an issue.
Features of Hearing Aids
Wrap Around v. Ear Bud (In The Canal)
- Hearing aids have come a long way since we were kids. The first thing you will notice when looking into new hearing aids is they are nearly nearly invisible! There are two major styles: one that wraps around the ear and fits into the ear canal, and the other which just goes straight into the ear. Obviously, the second is harder to see, but they both have their pros and cons.
Analogue v. Digital
- Ear trumpets were a precursor to electric hearing aids. They looked like a phonographs, and you probably remember them from movies.
- The first electric hearing aids were invented about a hundred years ago and were analogue. They work by receiving faint sounds, and then adding electrical current, amplify those sounds.
- Later came digital hearing aids. They work by receiving sounds, interpreting and processing them, then producing a more optimal sound for the ear. Both analogue and digital hearing aids are both in wide use, today.
Selectively Amplified Sounds
Auto-Adjust, and Mode-Selecting
- Digital hearing aids now have a broad range of features. Some of the most beloved are auto-adjusting and mode-selection. These features help you choose what noises you want to hear, and which noises to ignore. This is extremely helpful for cutting down crowd noise, or distant noises like a lawnmower. Auto-adjust does the tuning for you, while mode-select is a lot like flipping through the pre-settings on a stereo.
- Directional settings are another option some digital models have. With directional switching, you can "aim" the hearing aids to the front to watch TV or talk with a friend. Or you can "aim" them out, for enjoying a walk outside. You do not actually have to "aim" the hearing aids; instead they have a network of speakers and sensors that determine where noises are coming from.
- Bluetooth is probably the neatest feature available for hearing aids. Bluetooth is the wireless network that connects many of our devices. It is commonly used to link phones to speakers or cars. Bluetooth is helpful in hearing aids for a number of reasons: It allows the user to adjust settings remotely (without having to take the device out of their ear). This is nice for fine-tuning, because you can immediately notice the changes you are making. Hearing aids with Bluetooth can also sync-up to TV's, phones, and cars, which is a feature your kids and grandkids will definitely envy you for.
- For people with extreme cases of hearing lose, doctors may decide a cochlear implant is the best method for resorting functional hearing. These implants connect to the auditory nerve between the ear and brain, completely bypassing the ear.
Purchasing a Hearing Aid
- It is good to talk to a skilled audiologist or hearing aid specialist before purchasing a hearing aid. It is important to know that not all hearing aids are good for all types of hearing loss: doctors typically divide our scope of hearing into frequencies (high, medium, and low).
- Be honest with yourself about your personal dexterity. Many hearing aids require fully capable hands for changing batteries, and are not arthritis-friendly. Speaking of batteries, 2 weeks is about the lifetime of the longest-lasting batteries, right now.
Cost and Pricing
- Unfortunately, hearing aids can be quite expensive. The lowest are about $500, and they run up to several thousand dollars. And even more unfortunate is many insurance companies do not cover them. However, most insurance companies cover ear exams, and there are goodwill programs that may help cover expenses. Veterans can usually be outfitted with hearing aids for free through VA organizations.
Personal Sound Amplification Products
- We strongly advise against Personal Sound Amplification Products. Although they can be purchased for only a fraction of the price of a normal hearing aid, personal sound amplification products are dangerous. They are not required to have the same standards and regulations as hearing aids, and can actually damage your ear further.
- Make sure you are happy with your purchase. Request a "Real-Ear Test" when you go to pick up your new hearing aid. Many doctors’ offices offer them, and they check to make sure your hearing aid is tuned properly by using a very small microscope to make sure the output is well set to your specific ear.
Warning about Hearing Aids
- First off, take them out for sleeping. Hearing aids are small, delicate devices that can easily be lost or broken. You will sleep better without them, save the battery, and let your skin breath when you remember to take them out. That said, it is not a big deal if it happens every once in a while. Second, hearing aids take a bit of getting used to. Your new hearing is not going to match your previous hearing, exactly. Some noises will be more predominant than they used to be, and vise versa. But if you keep with it, you will get acclimated and it will fade from your thoughts. Third, get checked once a year. The doctor will reassess your hearing and retune your hearing aids. There may even be new software upgrades.
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