THE CONSUMER GUIDE TO HEARING AIDS
When it comes to hearing loss and hearing aids, many individuals tend to make various wrong assumptions. You don't have to be a senior citizen to experience hearing loss, and hearing aids don't need to be noticeable or cumbersome. In addition, there are many different causes of hearing loss, and each one can require a different solution.
The more you learn about the intricacies of the condition, the better you can assess your own situation or the experiences of those around you. There is plenty of information on hearing loss, and medical professionals are making new discoveries each year.
If you don't know where to start, the experts at our practice have developed this guide to provide education on the basics of hearing loss, ear care professionals, and hearing aids. From there, you can move forward, make smarter decisions, and pave a clear path towards better hearing for you or your loved one!
How Does Hearing Work?
By discovering the parts of your ear and their role in processing sounds, you can better understand the different kinds of hearing loss:
The Outer Ear: The auricle – or pinna – is the outer ear’s visible portion, and its job is to collect sound waves and channel them to the ear canal. The ear canal – or external auditory meatus – then amplifies and transfers the sound to the eardrum – or tympanic membrane – causing it to vibrate.
The Middle Ear: The eardrum’s vibrations move the three ossicles – the ear’s bones – which work together to amplify the collected sound further. These bones are the smallest in the human body, and they have been named after their shapes: incus (anvil), stapes (stirrup), and malleus (hammer).
The Inner Ear: The sound waves reach the inner ear and into a snail-like structure called the cochlea. This organ is full of fluid that moves when exposed to vibrations. Every time the fluid moves, thousands of connected nerve endings begin to react. These nerve endings convert sound vibrations into signals that travel through the auditory nerve, then the brain.
The brain interprets these signals, and this is how we use our ears to hear!
What Is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss generally occurs when sound vibrations don't reach parts of the ear or the brain fails to interpret auditory signals. When left untreated, it can impact your emotional well-being, self-image, learning skills, and general quality of life.
This condition affects more than the individual experiencing hearing issues, it can also affect the people around them. Family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers - most who experience hearing loss don't recognize its impact on others.
It's also a lot more common than you think:
- 31.5 million Americans, about 10%, experience hearing loss.
- Hearing loss is not just a condition of the elderly. Many audiologists and hearing professionals report an increasing number of younger patients each year.
- Of the 24 million hearing-impaired Americans who can benefit from hearing aids, only a fourth of them choose to wear one.
Causes of Hearing Loss
Many factors can contribute to hearing loss, and the most common ones include:
Aging: As you age, it's normal for your inner ear's delicate structures to degenerate or become damaged over time. Since certain parts of the ear do not regrow or repair themselves, any hearing loss that stems from damage is permanent.
Noise Exposure: The National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders reports nearly 20 million Americans regularly expose themselves to dangerously noisy environments. Whether you work construction or attend many music concerts, you have an increased risk of hearing loss the more stress you put on your ears ability to hear.
Genetics: It's almost impossible to exactly predict how genetics will affect children. However, many studies suggest that some forms of hearing loss can be passed down through generations or caused by genetic mutations. The symptoms may be present at birth, or they might manifest later in life.
Illnesses: Some diseases can cause hearing loss, especially when contracted by an infant or child and left untreated. A few examples include mumps, meningitis, chickenpox, cytomegalovirus, and severe cases of jaundice.
Hearing well depends on your auditory system functioning normally, so sound can travel from ear to brain. When a part of this system fails, your hearing suffers.
What Are The Types Of Hearing Loss?
We can categorize hearing loss conditions as conductive, sensorineural, or a mix of the two. Here's what you should know about each type:
Conductive: You often get conductive hearing loss when there is a problem - usually a blockage - with the middle ear. Fluid buildup, earwax, and other obstructions can stop sound waves from reaching the inner parts of the auditory system, causing hearing loss. Tumors and abnormal bone growths may also cause conductive hearing loss.
This condition is one of the easiest to treat, where removing the blockage through surgical means can restore normal hearing.
Sensorineural: Sensorineural hearing loss refers to the nerves in your inner hair. When these nerves - or hair cells - become damaged, your brain won't have as many electrical impulses to interpret into sound.
This form of hearing loss is permanent (and one of the most common), but many cases are treatable through hearing aids.
Mixed: Some people experience a mix of both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. Their conductive condition is often curable, while the sensorineural aspect of their hearing loss may require other treatments.
If you've experienced three or more of these scenarios, it might be time to get a hearing evaluation:
- Every sound you hear seems muffled.
- You have difficulty hearing high-pitched sounds like alarms, bird chirps, doorbells, and telephone rings.
- It's challenging to converse with other people in a noisy setting, such as a restaurant.
- You ask others to repeat what they said or speak more clearly, loudly, and slowly.
- You feel nervous when meeting new people because you struggle hearing them.
- You have to lip-read other people to understand what they're saying.
- You find it hard to understand dialogue in movies, internet videos, or in the theater.
- You have to turn up the volume of your tv, radio, or sound device to hear properly.
- You find some consonants hard to distinguish from each other, like pandt, sh and th, ors and f.
- Your ears constantly ring.
- Your ears are hypersensitive where exposure to certain sounds causes pain or irritation.
While some forms of hearing loss can only be treated, others are fairly easy to prevent. Here are some simple things you can do to help maintain your auditory system's health, regardless of your age.
Tips To Prevent Hearing Loss
Using cotton swabs to clean out your ear canals is a very common practice, but many ear care professionals advise against it. Having a bit of wax in your ears isn't just normal - it's also very important. Ears have the ability to self-clean, and wax prevents dust, germs, and other foreign particles from reaching vulnerable areas.
If your ears produce too much wax, you can gently clean around the canal using a damp towel. You can also apply an ear wax removal solution, which softens the wax and allows it to flow out on its own. It's always best to seek a medical professional who can accurately assess the condition of your ears and recommend proper treatment.
Listening to music through headphones or earbuds is one of the most significant dangers to your hearing. To help avoid damaging your ears, you can:
- Get noise-canceling headphones, so you don't have to increase the volume just to cover up outside noise.
- Turn up the volume enough to hear music comfortably, but no higher.
- Avoid listening to music at over 60% of the full volume - some audio devices even have features that limit the sound automatically.
- Take a five-minute break after every hour of listening with your headphones.
Some activities like sports events, concerts, and nightclubs may subject you to extremely loud sounds, but you can help protect your hearing by:
- Moving as far as possible away from the source of noise.
- Taking a 15-minute break from the noise when you can.
- Wearing special earplugs that lower volume but don't muffle the sound.
- Avoiding loud noise for at least 18 hours after the event to let your ears rest.
Speak with your occupational health manager or human resources department if your work environment exposes you to constant or repeating loud noises. Employers are required to account for the safety of their employees.
- Providing ear protection like earplugs and earmuffs.
- Giving employees ample resting periods Switching to quieter methods and equipment.
Did you know that regular exercise benefits your ears? Many cardio activities like running, cycling, and swimming push your body to pump more blood to various parts of your body - including the auditory system. These types of exercises help the internal organs of your ears stay healthy and maintain their maximum potential.
Some medicines like naproxen, aspirin, and naproxen can contribute to hearing loss when misused. Don't be afraid to consult with your doctor if you're concerned that your medications might impact your hearing and only take them as directed.
When moisture accumulates in your ear canal, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms can quickly multiply and cause an infection. You can easily avoid this by gently towel drying your ears after getting them wet. If you feel the water inside your ear, tilt your head sideways and lightly tug on your earlobe to coax it out.
See a hearing professional as soon as possible if you suspect something is wrong with your hearing. By taking proactive measures to protect your ear health, you can better prevent bigger problems in the future.
You might also consider having regular annual checkups, especially if you are at a higher risk of hearing loss, for instance, if you're a musician or construction worker.
Knowing the Difference Between Each Hearing Professional
Many types of hearing loss require different treatments, so it's crucial to see a medical professional for a proper diagnosis. For example, a child may have a conductive condition stemming from poor hygiene, while someone who lost their hearing over time might have a sensorineural problem due to a combination of noise exposure and aging.
Are you looking for a healthcare provider to help with your ear health for the first time? It's easy to get confused given the many options, which is why we're here to help. The most common hearing care experts you might encounter are audiologists, otolaryngologists, or hearing instrument specialists, and they are different in both skillset and education.
You can think of an audiologist as your "hearing doctor." They are licensed healthcare professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing loss and balance disorders. Most audiologists have a doctor of audiology degree (Au.D.), but some can have other degrees within the field, like a Ph.D. in Speech and Hearing Science.
Audiologists generally offer these services:
- Comprehensive hearing exams
- Tinnitus (ear ringing) and balance disorder treatments
- Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs
- Hearing aid fittings, adjustments, and maintenance
If audiologists are your "hearing doctors," then you can consider otolaryngologists your "ear doctors." What's the difference? An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating ear, nose, mouth, and throat conditions.
These specialists have extensive training in medicine and surgery, and they tackle ear conditions that stem from infection, trauma, or tumors. After you finish treatment with your otolaryngologist, they may refer you to an audiologist for counseling or prescription hearing aids to help restore your language recognition and communication skills.
HEARING INSTRUMENT SPECIALISTS
Lastly, hearing instrument specialists - as their name suggests - have extensive knowledge and experience in prescribing and fitting hearing aid technology. These experts remain up to date on the latest advancements in the field, which include assisted listening tools and smart-capable devices.
Along with their hearing device expertise, they also generally offer these services:
- Hearing exams
- Hearing protection
- Tinnitus treatments
- Ear wax management
Always ask your hearing instrument specialist for their state license or board certification. Most states like South Carolina require hearing instrument specialists to have both technical knowledge and practical experience before they can acquire a license.
What Happens at a Typical Appointment?
If you've never been to an appointment with a hearing professional, it's normal to feel a bit nervous or apprehensive. You can stay calm and relaxed much better if you know to expect the following:
1. Initial Consultation: Before your hearing professional performs specialized tests, they will ask you a series of questions that can help narrow down your condition. It's important to answer all of them as best as you can to improve the chances of an accurate diagnosis.
These questions can include your symptoms and any recent changes to your hearing ability. The doctor may also inquire about your medical history. If you have an underlying condition, for instance, it's crucial for your healthcare provider to know your allergies, current medications, past procedures, illnesses, and injuries.
2. Hearing Tests: After the doctor has gathered enough information, they will conduct one or more tests to assess your hearing capabilities further. If you're nervous, it might help to know that they are non-invasive and painless.
The most common types of testing include:
» Pure Tone Audiometry: Pure tone audiometry - or pure tone tests - measures your ability to hear sounds at various volumes and pitches through an air medium.
Your doctor will ask you to wear headphones and sit in a quiet, specially-designed booth. Then, they will broadcast a series of sounds through your headphones. Each time you hear the tone, you may be asked to press a button or raise your hand.
» Bone Conduction Tests: Doctors may use bone conduction - a type of pure-tone test - to measure your inner ear's sound response. They will place a conductor behind your ear that sends small vibrations directly to the inner ear, unlike other pure tone tests that use air as a sound medium.
» Speech Tests: The first part of speech testing measures your speech reception threshold (ST) or the softest volume you can properly hear and recognize speech. The doctor will ask you to sit in an isolated booth where you listen to a list of words spoken at different volumes and repeat them if you can.
Then, your doctor will assess your speech recognition or word recognition capabilities. Once again, you will repeat a string of words from a recording or directly spoken by your doctor.
» Tympanometry: Tympanometry is a test that evaluates the condition of your middle eardrum and conduction bones by sending air pressure through the ear canal.
This exam will help your doctor determine whether your condition has an available treatment or requires hearing aids. Many healthcare professionals also use it to detect and treat middle ear problems early on, even when a patient doesn't have noticeable hearing loss.
» Acoustic Reflex Tests: Doctors use acoustic reflex tests to measure the involuntary muscle contractions of your middle ear and determine the type and location of your hearing problem.
3. Diagnosis: After the testing process, the doctor will discuss the findings in detail. They usually diagnose you with a "degree of hearing loss" in decibels (dB) based on how loud sounds need to be for you to hear them:
» Mild (25-40 dB): It's challenging for you to hear and understand soft or quiet conversations, especially in an environment with plenty of background noise like classrooms and restaurants.
» Moderate (40-60 dB): You might find yourself frequently asking people to repeat themselves during a conversation. Standard hearing aids can often effectively treat mild and moderate hearing loss.
» Severe (60-80 dB): You can't hear people speak and tend to rely on lip-reading to follow a conversation.
» Severe-to-Profound (80-90 dB): Speech comprehension is impossible without a hearing aid or other listening device.
» Profound (90 dB and up): You can only hear very loud sounds when you have profound hearing loss, and your doctor may recommend lip-reading or sign language in tandem with hearing aids to boost your communication abilities.
4. Treatment and Maintenance: If you have a condition that's treatable - like excessive fluid or earwax in your ear - your doctor will recommend the appropriate procedure. For other forms of hearing loss, hearing aids are an excellent solution. The doctor may arrange follow-up sessions to explain your options in detail and tailor-fit a hearing aid to match your needs.
People who suffer from hearing loss often complain about mental exhaustion and general fatigue. When you're constantly straining to hear - even subconsciously - it stresses your brain and makes you feel worn out.
With hearing aids, you can avoid this daily struggle. These devices are the front-line treatment for hearing loss, especially for sensorineural cases. Health professionals use them to tackle various degrees of hearing loss, from mild to profound.
Hearing Aids Do More than Amplify Your Hearing
Did you know that hearing aids do more than just allow you to hear better? Many studies suggest that using these devices can improve your overall health and wellness.
Prevent Cognitive Decline: Research shows a link between hearing loss and severe diseases like dementia. When you don't use your auditory system, the part of your brain responsible for hearing degenerates slowly. In other words, the longer you forego hearing loss treatment, the more you expose your brain to damage.
Boost Mental Health: Studies suggest that hearing aids may prevent depression and improve your overall mental health, but how? When people regularly fail to follow conversations, they often begin to isolate themselves and avoid activities and time with their loved ones. Hearing aids will bring back the loss of function and encourage you to interact with others again.
Protect Physical Health: According to some studies, people who leave their hearing condition untreated become three times more likely to sustain physical injuries like falling or slipping. This is because our auditory health is significantly connected to our balance.
Correct Tinnitus: There is no permanent cure for tinnitus, but modern hearing aids can lessen the symptoms significantly. If you suffer from this condition, you might want to discuss potential options with your doctor.
Hearing Aid Styles
Many cases of hearing loss can benefit from hearing aids. However, some people might refuse to wear them because they think the devices will affect their image. While older hearing aids did sport larger designs, modern technology made these once clunky devices far more sleek and appealing. The hearing aids you might see today come in various styles that have their own benefits. It's up to you and your doctor to find what works best for you.
Let's go over the most common types of hearing aids:
BTE styles are some of the most- used thanks to their versatility and broad range of functions. As their name suggests, these models sit snuggly behind your ear, with a thin tube entering the canal. You can remove, clean, and maintain them easily, and they come in a variety of styles to match your taste.
While they also sit behind your ear like BTEs, RIC models have a loudspeaker that saves more energy and creates a superior listening experience. Doctors prescribe them to patients with mild to moderate hearing loss.
ITEs are custom-fit hearing aids. All of their components lie inside a smooth casing that blends seamlessly with the wearer's ear. These devices have enough space to house manual controls, and they can treat severe forms of hearing loss.
ITs are like ITEs in that they match your ear shape, but they sport a much smaller, less noticeable design. These hearing aids can come in different faceplate covers, include manual memory and volume controls, and are a potential custom-fit choice if you have mild to almost severe hearing loss.
If you want something more inconspicuous, custom-fit CIC models are almost invisible, except for the tiny plastic "handle' S" outside the ear canal. While these devices can help with mild to moderate hearing loss, their small sizes might pose a problem if you have limited dexterity.
For ultimate discretion, IIC hearing aids are your best option. These models attach to the ear canal's second bend, making them completely invisible when worn. A very small plastic handle lets you remove them when not in use. Because of their deeper ear placement, lICs are not suitable for everyone, and they can only treat mild to moderate cases of hearing loss.
Upgrading Your Modern Hearing Aid Device
Thanks to modern technology, hearing aids can come with extra features to improve their functionality.
The most common additions include:
WIRELESS CONNECTIVITY: Many hearing aids can wirelessly interface with Bluetooth-compatible devices like cell phones, laptops, TVs, and music players. You might have to use an intermediary device to collect signals and transfer them to your hearing aid.
VARIABLE PROGRAMMING: Today's hearing aids may include preprogrammed settings to suit different environments and listening needs. Whether you're alone at home or in a crowded restaurant, the device will change its sound balance to provide a better hearing experience.
DIRECTIONAL MICROPHONES: Directional microphones allow a hearing aid to pick up more sound coming from the front of the wearer while limiting those that come from other directions. This feature can improve your ability to hear in environments with plenty of background noise.
REMOTE CONTROLS: External remote controls for hearing aids let you adjust features on the fly without touching or removing the actual device. If your hearing aid has wireless connectivity, you can likely connect it with your phone and use a remote control app for added convenience.
SYNCHRONIZATION: Do you plan on using hearing aids for both ears? Certain models function together so you can make adjustments as one individual unit instead, allowing for faster and simpler control.
RECHARGEABLE BATTERIES: Rechargeable hearing aids make for cheaper and easier maintenance by eliminating the need to change batteries frequently. Most hearing aids with this feature come in BTE styles.
TELECOILS: A telecoil improves your phone call experience by reducing environmental noise and picking up the sounds from a hearing-aid-compatible device. This tool can also pick up signals from induction loop systems found in theaters, meeting rooms, auditoriums, meeting rooms, and other public places.
Adjusting to Your New Hearting Aid
It's important to remember that while hearing aids significantly improve your senses, they won't exactly replicate how you used to hear before your condition. For the first few weeks of wearing your new device, certain sounds may feel different or unfamiliar, while some might be louder than you'd like.
These new sensations can be annoying - or even scary - but the more you let your auditory system adapt, the more comfortable they become.
Here are some helpful tips to make the transition smoother:
1. Start Small: Wear your hearing aids at home or in other comfortable listening environments. You can begin practicing by listening to softer sounds and having one-on-one conversations with family and friends.
Let your loved ones know that you have new hearing aids so they can provide some encouragement as you wear them in increasingly challenging environments.
2. Set Some Goals: Making a "hearing activity checklist each day can give you motivation. A few good ones include listening to audiobooks, reading out loud, and locating every source of sound in your environment. When you set goals for yourself, remember to take your time and gradually increase the number of hours you wear your hearing aids.
3. Anticipate Some Frustration: If you've had hearing problems for a long time, the sounds picked up by your hearing device can easily overwhelm you. For instance, the buzzing of a fly or humming of a refrigerator may become unbearable after a short while.
This is a normal reaction, so don't worry. Your brain has simply "forgotten" how to siphon out background noise and prioritize some sounds over others. As you adjust to your new device, you will slowly relearn to ignore the noise and become more comfortable.
4. Have Regular Checkups: Visit your hearing care expert for follow-up assessments to adjust the fit of your device, fine-tune its settings, and discuss situations that challenge you the most.
This is also the perfect time to tell your health provider if you're feeling severe discomfort. While it's normal for hearing aids to cause a bit of tenderness and irritation, you shouldn't feel any lingering pain.
5. Attend Hearing Classes: Your hearing aid specialist might recommend aural rehabilitation to speed up the adjustment process. These classes will help improve your hearing by teaching different listening skills. For example, you might learn to decipher speech against background noise by observing the speaker's lips, facial movements, and body gestures.
Aural rehabilitation provides an excellent opportunity to treat any lingering problems you might have with your hearing aid. On top of learning new techniques, these classes also offer professional counseling to help you and your loved ones cope with the emotional and psychological aspects of hearing loss.
How Do You Properly Maintain Your Hearing Aid?
Like any electronic device, proper care and regular preventive maintenance will extend your hearing aid's operational lifespan and reduce the chance of a malfunction.
Here are a few general tips that can help you get the most out of your new device:
1. Avoid Moisture at All Costs: Hearing aids house some very complex circuitry and technology inside their tiny shells, and exposing them to moisture can cause irreparable damage. While modern hearing aids are highly water-resistant, it's still a good idea to remove them when bathing or swimming.
When your hearing aid does come in contact with water, don't panic and gently towel dry them. Don't attempt to remove the moisture using high heat as it can damage the device's components. If you live somewhere humid, you might want to store your hearing aid in a dehumidifying container.
2. Handle Your Device with Care: Modern hearing aids might be built to last, but this doesn't mean you should handle them with any less care.
- Some useful pointers include:
- Always hold your device securely to avoid accidental drops.
- When not in use, store them in a safe place that's away from the reach of children and animals.
- Whenever you clean your hearing aid or change its batteries, set it on a towel or any soft, dry surface.
- Turn off your device when not in use.
- Avoid using hairspray and other hair care products while wearing your hearing aid.
- Turn off hearing aids when they are not in use.
3. Clean Your Device: Earwax is a leading cause of poor hearing aid performance.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to prevent earwax from accumulating on your device. That's why you should get into the habit of cleaning them frequently.
After a whole day of wearing your device, take a soft toothbrush or dry cotton swab and gently remove earwax and other debris on the surface. Don't forget to clean both the microphone and receiver.
4. Replace Batteries Often: Is your hearing aid non-rechargeable? Make a habit of replacing your batteries often since trapped moisture can corrode them and cause damage to your device. Remember to keep the battery door open when not in use unless instructed otherwise by your hearing care provider.
Dirty battery contacts can lower the performance of your hearing aids. Whenever you replace old batteries, you should clean the battery contacts by wiping them down gently with a dry cotton swab.
5. Change the Wax Filter: Aside from removing earwax on the surface of your device, you also need to replace your wax guard or filter periodically. This component prevents wax from reaching your hearing aid's vulnerable areas and causing damage. One good practice is to change the filter the moment you see some wax buildup.
Keep in mind that not every device has the same wax filters. Consult with your hearing care provider on how and when to change the filter for your particular hearing aid.
6. Schedule Routine Checkups: While cleaning and caring for your hearing aid at home will greatly improve its lifespan and performance, you should still bring them to a professional every so often.
Think of it like sending your car to the mechanic; their experience will help spot certain areas that are easy to miss and fix minor issues before they worsen. They can also make adjustments to your device to better meet your current needs.
Reap the Benefits of Better Hearing Today
Depending on the type and severity of your hearing loss, certain hearing aids might suit you more than others. Our trained specialists at our practice can provide insight on which devices you can use and what might work best for you. We also carry the latest hearing aid models and accessories to guarantee nothing less than the best performance.
If you don't have a hearing care professional or you're looking to switch providers, our team has the skills and experience to treat your condition. We have helped patients for over 80 years, making us the most established manufacturer and hearing care provider in the country.
Do you have more questions or concerns? Please reach out to our experts and schedule an appointment. Start your journey towards better hearing today!