There is a lot of confusion today on what to do if you have a hearing loss. Where do you go? Should you buy your hearing aids online? At a big box store? What about these new, so called, over-the-counter options? Or, what about going to your local hearing health care provider? There are many hearing aid options available to you, but only one choice will give you what you’re looking for, and that’s visiting your local hearing health care provider.
Let’s first start with an outline of what the process should entail, and by whom. The very first step is with YOU!
After experiencing symptoms of what you think may be hearing loss, YOU will be the person to pick up the phone and call your local office to have your hearing checked by a licensed hearing health professional. You should budget two hours for this appointment so the provider can take the time necessary to fully administer multiple tests so they can understand all aspects of your individual loss.
When you have your hearing screened, you should always bring someone who has a familiar voice with you, as there is a lot of information to absorb, and another set of ears can help when you are at home to remember what was said. Additionally, if that person lives with you, we may have them help us administer tests so you are responding to someone who is in your natural environment, rather than to a voice you may understand better, but won’t hear as often.
During your initial hearing evaluation appointment, the following should occur.
A lifestyle evaluation to help your provider understand what your daily life is like (not every hearing aid fits every loss or every lifestyle. I equate this to a contractor buying a two-wheel drive truck when they haul big, heavy materials all the time. While that may do the job in the short term, all the wear and tear and overworking the two-wheel drive truck will cost more in the long run to repair and keep up. The same applies with hearing aids. While you may hear better in some situations, most of the situations you will find yourself in will cause overworking by the hearing aid if it’s incorrectly fit, and it will wear down or cause an unpleasant hearing experience overall).
Thorough, Varied Testing
The next step is the actual evaluation. This will consist of four parts.
During these tests, you will push a button as you hear the tones – this will let us know what your actual loss is.
Word Recognition Test
We will present you with words and have you repeat them. This will tell us what your brain still understands.
This test is extremely important to helping you achieve your desired quality of life, as the longer you go without treating your loss, the more likely it is that the correct signals that help you recognize language are not getting to the brain. When this happens, your brain actually starts to forget words and lose language. Once your hearing loss has advanced this far, there is nothing we can do to help correct your loss. Early treatment is always the best option when you are dealing with your hearing – because we’re really talking about your overall brain function.
Do you have trouble hearing in background noise? This third test will tell us just how much trouble you are having, and how well you will hear in a noisy situation when you are wearing hearing aids. This test also helps us determine if hearing aids are right for you, which technology level is most appropriate for you, or if you should be referred to one of our preferred physicians.
This test will rule out any middle ear issue or some other issue that would have us send you to an ENT to rule out conditions of the middle ear that may be remedied with medication or surgery.
A Plan to Fit Your Individual Hearing Loss
The last part of your first appointment is when your hearing health care professional reviews all of the information they’ve just collected, and presents you with a tailored recommendation for your specific loss. If hearing aids are a good option for you, then a hearing aid fitting, many times, can be performed right away. You can walk out the same door you walked in just two hours earlier starting your new hearing aid journey. How awesome, right??
A licensed professional, whether it be a licensed hearing instrument specialist, audiologist or doctor of audiology, are the only health care professionals licensed in the state of Iowa to perform hearing tests, and make diagnoses and informed recommendations. None of them can perform more tests than another, and all must refer to an ENT if certain questions or parts of the tests administered result in failure. Remember, they have all passed the national exam, and are specifically trained to help you with your hearing health needs.
Now that you have a full understanding of the critical depths we go to in administering a thorough hearing evaluation before hearing aids even become a part of the discussion, we can address hearing aids today.
Over-the-Counter Hearing Aids
While the law is still being written, and will take 3 to 5 years to get implemented, we need to address over-the-counter hearing aids options (or OTC hearing aids). The details of how the government will offer this option is currently still very gray. What we do know is that the individual selling the hearing aids to you will not be a licensed professional, and so, the person isn’t trained to recognize the nuances of your loss as a hearing health care professional would be.
When I address OTC hearing aids, it’s important that you understand that this option will be more like personal sound amplifiers than hearing aids today. They will not be able to be programmed to an individual’s loss, but come pre-programmed for a mild loss. They also will not be frequency-specific, so the experience for an OTC ‘hearing aid’ wearer will be that of having a master volume dial on your ears that turns all your sounds up or down together.
OTC hearing aids will be sold by “Mike” who works behind the counter at your local drug store (think about that next time you go buy your items at CVS – do you want the same person treating one of your five senses who also sold you your 16 oz. pop?). He will hand you a box and say “have a nice day”, maybe? You will not be given a private appointment or be shown how to take care of your hearing aids.
These devices are tiny computers these days, and caring for your hearing is a careful process. You will not be able to go over these frequently asked questions:
- Using and caring for your batteries
- Caring for the hearing aids at night
- Can you get the hearing aids wet?
- What should you do if they fail? What does your warranty cover?
- How to change the tubes and domes
- Scheduling regular check-ups
- Caring for your ears if you have wax
- Plugged tubes
- Do you have a tumor? (Oh, that’s right. They did not give me an exam and you actually needed to be sent to an ENT.)
These are just a few of the items a licensed professional will cover with you. Think of the OTC option as “readers” for the ears.
Purchasing Hearing Aids Online
The online option is just as bad as the over-the-counter hearing aid options– it’s just more deceiving. While the pricing may seem really good on hearing aids you buy through a website, lots of your questions won’t get answered – and after you have them in hand, the nickel-and-diming begins.
A warranty is very important to have for your hearing aids, so if they fail (remember, they are tiny computers on your ear, so will fail at some point), they are covered to be sent in and fixed. Manufacturers void their warranty if hearing aids are purchased online, and will even go as far as to keep them if they are sent in to be repaired when they were purchased online. If you choose this option, and you send in your aids to be repaired, now you are out the money you “saved” in buying them in the first place. Your online retailer will NOT tell you this ahead of time – so once you’re in this situation, what recourse do you have? You will need to mail them back to where you bought them to get them reprogrammed, or have the receivers changed, and you will be without hearing aids while that is being done. Furthermore, if you are not sitting in front of the retailer while the reprogramming is taking place, and when you receive them back through the mail in 2 to 3 weeks, the adjustment is still not right, then you will need to send them back again. You might wonder, “How often can I do that before I am charged for this?” – and then, during your remote adjustment, more charges might be added to your purchase to pay for parts used in the adjustment.
Websites pop up daily, and manufacturers spend a lot of time and money chasing them down to have them cease and desist to protect you from this. Still, that does not help you after they get shut down, because you’ve already paid for the hearing aids. And, you cannot buy hearing aids online and bring them to a local professional, as we will not take any part in this process because we cannot damage our relationship with the manufacturers or open ourselves up to lawsuits due to the online retailer misgivings.
Big Box Stores
Toilet paper, cereal, and oh yeah! My hearing health.
Buying hearing aids at a big box store may seem convenient and viable, but has many drawbacks. The professionals here are typically those who have worked at many places before, and are poorer at programming, which is the most important aspect of your hearing aids. There really is a finesse to fitting hearing aids. It is not a one-size-fits-all process. Turnover is very high at big box stores so you might see a different person every time you go in and then have to “train” them on what you like. The evaluation in a store is the simplest it can be in order to keep profit margins higher for the retailer, so they will skip critical tests that help hearing health care professionals make the right recommendation for your specific hearing loss. At the check-ups, you will have to drop your hearing aids off while you shop to be re-programmed without your feedback. You will then pick them up at the end of your errand, only to put them on to discover the changes they made sound horrible – so now you have to leave them again – this process can take forever. You should be sitting right there, with the hearing aids on while they are being programmed so you can tell us how it sounds to you in real time.
Big box stores strip important pieces like speech-in-noise components that help you hear in noisy situations out of the hearing aids and care to get the price down. What if this retailer decides they don’t want to treat hearing health anymore; where will you go now? Just like with online hearing aids, you can’t bring big box store hearing aids to a local professional, as we do not have their software to program your aids. So, now you have an expensive paperweight!
Licensed Hearing Health Professionals
Now onto the choice that is the best overall in treating hearing loss and hearing health: the trained and licensed professional. Why choose us? This is what we have spent our lives and careers preparing for. We must continue our education each year and meet standards of maintenance in order to stay licensed. This is what we do, all day, every day, and we are licensed by a board and governed by the State of Iowa.
At Concept, you are given the most comprehensive hearing exam, and in-person, private check-ups while you sit with us with your hearing aids letting us know how they sound as we program or adjust them.
I equate this to taking your Ford to a Ford dealer for engine trouble versus taking your Ford to a tire store for engine trouble – not sure that is a good idea. The care we give you is typically all-inclusive; our price currently includes:
- All testing and ongoing testing
- Every check-up (No matter how many you need! You will be surprised by how many you should have and might need; treating hearing loss takes time, patience and fine-tuning.)
- Repairs and warranties
- Changing casing, battery doors, receivers and domes
This is all done in person and in a private setting. A new patient typically will be seen 4 to 6 times over the first 3 months, and then every 4 to 6 months after that to ensure you are hearing at your optimum ability. Of course, we will see you as needed outside of this schedule (remember, clinic visits are included in your price).
After your purchase, care is the most important aspect of your ongoing hearing health, as programming your hearing aids so you may hear properly based upon your loss takes a lot of training. The software we use to program your aids is very powerful and intricate. Because of this, Concept professionals are the most trained in the Midwest by our manufacturer. Speech understanding, staving off dementia, and avoiding falls are all important benefits to having your hearing aids finely tuned by frequency to your specific loss in both ears by the most qualified professionals in the field. The testing clears some critical areas; certain answers you will give, or certain aspects of the tests can indicate serious medical conditions (like brain tumors), and while not too common, it is a possibility. We do not want you to be the person whose serious condition is missed because you didn’t go to the proper professional.
What Your Hearing Aids Should Cost
New (2017) hearing aids should start around $1499 each, depending upon your loss, lifestyle and budget. No one cares more for you than those who are trained specifically in this field, and can help decipher all the nuances of having and correctly using hearing aids. Choose hearing aids over amplifiers for your loss. Choose a professional for your testing and your lifelong care. We’re sure you will be glad you did.
Owner and President, Concept by Iowa Hearing Aid Centers