Millions of Americans experience premature hearing loss. Even so, about 60 percent of people who need hearing aids don’t get them for a variety of reasons, including concerns about appearance, cost, and the logistics of how to find one. The following tips can help you navigate the process of selecting a hearing aid.
Find a good dispenser
A “hearing aid dispenser” may be a trained audiologist or a merchant who specializes in selling hearing aids. You should interview several and ask them about their education, experience, and follow-up care. Don’t feel pressured to rush into buying them.
Keep your options open
Make sure the dispenser you choose sells products from a variety of manufacturers so you’ll have a good selection.
Check out the dispenser’s background
Learn about his or her complaint history and licensing or certification status with the state by calling the Better Business Bureau at (800) 955-5100 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (800) HELP-FLA (435-7352).
Know how the pricing works
Find out whether the dispenser will charge you one flat fee or bill you separately for the hearing tests, the hearing aids, and other services.
Obtain a clean bill of health
Get both an ear examination from a physician and a hearing evaluation from a dispenser. The physician will make sure your hearing loss isn’t the symptom of an underlying medical condition, and the audiologist will make sure you’re a good candidate for a hearing aid.
The truth about trial periods
Ask the dispenser about a free trial period, and about trying out more than one hearing aid for comparison purposes. Many manufacturers will make adjustments during the trial period and allow returns within 60 to 90 days at no charge to the dispenser.
Don’t take unnecessary risks
Realize the risks of purchasing a hearing aid from a door-to-door salesperson, through the mail or via an advertisement that says you don’t need a hearing examination. You may get stuck with a shoddy hearing aid.
Read the contract carefully
The hearing aid purchase agreement should include any verbal promises and spell out whether the warranty will be honored by the manufacturer or the dispenser, what services you’ll receive, and whether you’ll get a replacement if yours needs repair.
Get a tax break
If you work for a company that offers a health care reimbursement account, use it to pay for your hearing aid. You’ll avoid both income and Social Security taxes on the money.
Have realistic expectations
It may take some time for your brain to adjust to the hearing aid, so you may not be able to tell right away whether you like the way it’s working. Also recognize that they can be a huge help, but they don’t restore normal hearing and they don’t work well in all situations.
Sources: AARP (www.aarp.org) Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (www.hearingloss.org) American Academy of Audiology (www.audiology.org) Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov)
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What to Expect From a Hearing Aid
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It takes time and patience to learn the best way to use your hearing aid. Expectations often are too high: hearing aids will not restore normal hearing or eliminate background noise. Adjusting to a hearing aid is a slow process of learning to listen in different environments and getting used to hearing different sounds. Try to become familiar with them under relaxed circumstances for only a few hours at a time. Your audiologist can recommend learning programs that suit your individual needs.
Become skilled at using your hearing aid. Learn how to use it and how to clean it. Practice inserting and removing it.
If you wear two hearing aids, get familiar with which one goes in which ear, with the volume control, and how to replace the batteries. Ask your audiologist how to wear them most comfortably and how long you should wear them at first. Ask how to test yours in different situations and how to adjust them for particular types of sounds.
At first, your own voice likely will sound too loud. This “occlusion effect” is very common for new users. Most people get used to it over time.
A whistle in your hearing aid means it is getting feedback. This can be caused by the fit or by a buildup of wax or fluid in the ear. Your audiologist can make the appropriate adjustments.
Background noise is another frequent problem. Hearing aids don’t just let you hear the sounds you want to hear — but if you are hearing too much noise, there may be a problem. You should discuss this problem with your audiologist.
How Many Different Kinds of Hearing Aids Are There?
There are several types of hearing aids. Each type offers different advantages, depending on its design, levels of amplification, and size. Before purchasing, ask whether it has a warranty that will allow you to try it out. Most manufacturers allow a 30 to 60-day trial period during which aids can be returned for a refund.
There are four basic styles:
These fit completely in the outer ear. They can help with mild to severe hearing loss. A hard plastic case holds the basic electronics, and extras can be added. One of these extras is a small magnetic coil called a telecoil. This device improves hearing during telephone calls. Drawbacks to ITE aids are that earwax or ear fluids can damage them. Their small size can make them hard to adjust, and feedback can be an issue. These devices are not usually used by children as their hard plastic case needs to be replaced to fit growing ears.
These fit behind the ear and connect to a plastic ear mold fit to the inside of the outer ear. The case behind the ear holds the electronic components. BTE aids are used by people of all ages for mild to profound hearing loss. They usually cause feedback only when they fit poorly or when there is a buildup of earwax or fluid.
These devices fit into the ear canal. There are two types: In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing aids fit the size and shape of the ear canal and are used for mild or moderately severe hearing loss. Completely-in-Canal (CIC) hearing aids are mostly hidden in the ear canal and also work for mild to moderately severe hearing loss. Because of their small size, canal aids may be difficult for the user to adjust and remove, and may not be able to hold additional devices, such as a telecoil. Canal aids can also be damaged by earwax and ear drainage. Usually, they are not used for children.
These devices are for people with profound hearing loss. The aid is attached to a belt or a pocket and connected to the ear by a wire. It is large enough to hold lots of optional electronic add-ons, but most people with less severe hearing loss prefer smaller hearing aids.
How Do Hearing Aids Work?
The electronic insides of hearing aids differ even among the same types of devices. There are three basic types of circuitry:
The audiologist finds the right specifications for your hearing aids, and then a laboratory custom builds a device. There is built-in room for your audiologist to fine-tune these settings. This usually is the least expensive type.
Using a computer, the audiologist programs your hearing aid. The circuitry of this type will accommodate more than one program or setting. The wearer can use a remote control device to switch to the best program for a given listening environment.
Like the analog/programmable hearing aids, the audiologist uses a computer to program these devices. They then can be further adjusted to improve and individualize sound quality. Digital hearing aids contain a microphone, receiver, battery, and computer chip. Digital circuitry provides the most flexibility for the audiologist to make adjustments for the hearing aid. It is also the most expensive type.
What Should I Ask Before Buying a Hearing Aid?
Ask your audiologist these important questions:
- Can my hearing loss be treated by a doctor?
- Which design is best for me?
- How much is the total cost of the hearing aids?
- Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids? If I return them after the trial period, how much will I be charged?
- How long is the warranty? Can it be extended?
- Does the warranty cover maintenance and repairs? If so, for how long?
- Can the audiologist adjust my hearing aids and make minor repairs? If repair is needed, will I get loaners?
- What kinds of instruction and training will the audiologist give me?
- What extra devices fit into the recommended hearing aids?
It’s not easy to do comparison shopping for hearing aids, but here are some tips:
Do your homework. Use the Internet or your local library to learn more about hearing loss and about the available styles of hearing aids. There’s excellent information available from nonprofit groups, professional organizations, and retailers. A good place to start is at the American Academy of Audiology.
Get a hearing test. Don’t forget this step. It’s crucial for you to know the degree and type of hearing loss you have. It’s even more important to rule out any medical problems. If you pay for a hearing test separately, you are free to shop around for the best model for you at the best price. Hearing tests cost around $75, depending on where you live.
Go for a consultation to get an audiologist’s recommendation on types of hearing aids and to discuss cost. Invest time here in order to save money and avoid hassles later. See two or more audiologists for consultations, making it clear upfront with each one that you are shopping around and seeing more than one audiologist. Check their recommendations against each other and against the prices you find on the web.
Finally, buy the hearing aid. Dicker a little bit and buy the model you want at the best price.
If you can’t afford them, look for a nonprofit organization that provides free or low-cost hearing aids. These nonprofits include the League for the Hard of Hearing in New York.
Taking Care of Your Hearing Aids
- Protect them from heat and moisture.
- Replace dead batteries right away.
- Clean them according to their instructions.
- Don’t use hairspray or other spray-on hair products while wearing them.
- Turn off hearing aids when you aren’t using them.
- Keep small hearing aids — and replacement batteries — away from children and pets.
Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD
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