Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Pity the poor hearing aid. Although their satisfaction rate among users is more than 70 percent, and they are credited for providing their users with a greater quality of life, they remain among the most misunderstood – and stigmatized – devices in the medical world today. Even though they successfully amplify sound for more than 12 million Americans, there are approximately 25 million more who would benefit from their use, but won’t wear them.
Why? Some are afraid the devices make them look old. Others refuse to believe they have a hearing problem. Others don’t believe they will improve their ability to hear because of an experience a friend or family member shared. Sound familiar? Maybe it’s time to familiarize yourself with a few FAQs about hearing aids.
What is a hearing aid?
A hearing aid is a small electronic device worn behind the ear or in the ear canal. It amplifies sound so that a person with hearing loss can hear sound better. Hearing devices have three components: a microphone, amplifier and speaker. Sound comes through the microphone and is converted into an electrical signal and sent to the amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and sends them to the ear through the speaker.
Today’s hearing aid is much smaller and more powerful than the hearing devices our parents and grandparents wore even 10 years ago. Advances in digital technology make them better able to distinguish conversation in noisy environments; many are Bluetooth capable and connect with smart phones and other personal electronic devices we now use on a daily basis.
Can hearing aids improve my hearing?
That depends on what type of hearing loss you have:
- Conductive hearing loss is usually caused by an obstruction in the ear canal, such as swelling due to an ear infection or a benign tumor. If your hearing healthcare professional determines your hearing loss is conductive, your hearing may return to normal once the obstruction has been removed. If your hearing does not return to normal, you may benefit from wearing a hearing aid.
- Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear. This damage can be caused by exposure to loud noise, illness, medication, injury or age. If your hearing healthcare professional determines you have sensorineural hearing loss, you may benefit from wearing a hearing aid.
- Presbycusis, generally a subset of sensorineural, is the loss of hearing that occurs in most individuals as they age. This condition is common and can often be improved with hearing aids.
What should I look for when choosing a hearing aid?
That depends on your lifestyle and your budget. An active person who enjoys traveling and athletic activities will most likely need a different model of hearing aid than someone who spends most of their time at home watching television.
Your hearing healthcare professional will ask a variety of questions to help you determine what type of amplification you need, then work with you to make sure your hearing device works properly to help you hear the sounds that are most important to you. Remember that friend who told you they keep their hearing aids in the dresser drawer? That just might be because they weren’t honest with their hearing healthcare professional about their expectations and lifestyle, or didn’t schedule follow up visits as requested.
How long will it take for me to adjust to wearing hearing aids?
Adjusting to hearing aids varies from person to person and depends upon how long you waited to treat your hearing loss as well as its severity. Although our ears collect noise from our environment, it’s actually our brain that translates it into recognizable sound. If hearing loss is left untreated, the auditory part of your brain can actually atrophy, in which case your rehabilitation may take a while longer. You’ll also want to wear them as recommended. Following your doctor’s orders improves your chances for success.
How long do hearing aids last?
With proper use and maintenance, hearing aids typically last between three and five years.
Can I return my hearing aids if I’m not satisfied?
Many hearing centers offer a trial period to ensure you are satisfied. Be sure to ask your hearing healthcare professional about their policies before you purchase any hearing device.
How can I find out if I need a hearing aid?
The best way to find out if you need a hearing aid is to have your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare professional. A thorough hearing test will take approximately an hour of your time during which you will most likely be asked to provide your health history, undergo a series of hearing assessments, and discuss your lifestyle and expectations for better hearing. Afterward, a hearing healthcare professional will discuss the results of your test with you and, if its determined that your hearing can benefit from amplification, discuss next steps.
If your hearing has changed recently or you suspect you have hearing loss, make an appointment to see a hearing healthcare professional in your community as soon as possible. There’s a lot to hear in this world – laughing children, music, the sound of someone you love calling your name – and hearing aids may be able to help you hear them.